The sequel in a powerful set of winter storms slammed the North Coast on Tuesday, with heavy rain and powerful winds triggering widespread flooding and power outages, and runoff swelling the Russian River well above its banks, threatening as many as 800 homes Wednesday as the floodwaters are set to rise to a level not seen in a decade.
The wind-driven storm, which packed a stronger punch than initially expected, appeared to score a direct hit on the region, prompting evacuations in parts of Marin County and toppling trees onto cars and houses, while submerging dozens of roads and knocking out power to at least 11,000 homes across Sonoma County.
Emergency crews fielded an onslaught of rescue and hazard calls from about 4 p.m., when the heaviest band of rain and wind hit, until 8 p.m., when the additional moisture in an already sodden week had re-submerged many low-lying areas inundated by floodwaters Sunday or Monday.
“We’re getting slides and trees down on power lines everywhere,” Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman said about 9 p.m. as the calls started to taper off. “The ground is so saturated from all this rain. It’s not soaking in, and it’s all running off. Now, the ground is giving way.”
In the 72-hour period ending Tuesday night, a total of 8½ inches fell on Santa Rosa while nearly 20 inches drenched the hills west of Healdsburg.
All eyes Tuesday night were on forecasts for the Russian River, which overran its banks Monday, and was expected to push nearly 8 feet beyond flood stage to crest at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Guerneville at 39.8 feet. That’s the highest level since 2006 when waters surged to 41.8 feet, causing $110 million in flood damage.
Officials said 800 homes in the lower river area were at risk of flooding or being cut off by floodwaters. About 3,000 residents in the river communities from Forestville to Jenner remained under evacuation advisories Tuesday night.
“The flooding around Guerneville is going to get larger,” Christopher Helgren, Sonoma County’s emergency manager, said Tuesday. “There are going to be more places underwater.”
The river is expected to return to within its banks Friday morning. Dry weather is forecast the rest of the week.
Tuesday’s storm ravaged a large swath of Northern California from Big Sur to South Lake Tahoe. But at times, it appeared the North Coast bore the brunt.
Late Tuesday, San Antonio Creek on the Sonoma-Marin border spilled its banks and closed Highway 101 in both directions, with authorities saying the roadway would remain shut until floodwaters subsided. Some residents of San Anselmo and the Ross area of Marin County were ordered to evacuate late Tuesday as floodwaters in the area bore down on homes.
On Tuesday, parts of central Guerneville were already under several feet of water, requiring emergency crews to paddle boats to rescue stranded residents. An evacuation advisory was in effect for 1,700 houses while a mudslide in the hills above Monte Rio threatened seven homes, which authorities put off-limits to residents because of safety risks.
“There’s mud coming down, trees falling. It’s so steep and you don’t want to get too close,” said Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum, who surveyed a slide in Monte Rio area. “It is pretty dangerous to get near it.”