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Storm Batters Northern California; Southern Part of State Braces For It

March 10, 1995

ST. HELENA, Calif. (AP) _ A howling Pacific storm lashed Northern California on Thursday, swamping roads, snapping power lines and raising fears of a repeat of January’s disastrous floods.

``The forecast unfortunately is for continued gusty wind and rain. I think we’ll be in a roller-coaster situation for at least a day and a half,″ said Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Ron Rutkowski. The company called in extra crews to deal with more than 140,000 customers without power.

In Southern California, residents braced for the storm’s arrival, especially in La Conchita, the Ventura County town where a hillside collapsed Saturday, burying nine homes.

Streams pushed over their banks in many areas in Northern California; in St. Helena, a small town in lush wine country, more than 350 people were evacuated when the Napa River overflowed.

``The water just came rushing through,″ said 67-year-old Don Coffey, who was chased from his apartment building to an evacuation center. ``I had water up past my waist. I was just able to get out with a few clothes. They are all soaked.″

Rain was falling at a half-inch or more an hour in the Santa Cruz Mountains on the central coast south of San Francisco, and other areas reported that up to 8 inches of rain fell overnight.

Rain was expected intermittently until Saturday morning, raising fears that this latest storm could cause damage rivaling that from more than two weeks of rain in January. During that deluge, 11 people died and more than $300 million in damage was reported statewide.

In Napa, the river rose 7 feet overnight, and was flowing less than 2 feet below its banks. Residents of about 20 homes near Napa Creek evacuated and were being housed in local hotels. Schools in three counties were closed for the day.

To the west, near Guerneville, one of the hardest-hit communities two months ago, the Russian River was rising. National Weather Service forecaster Miguel Miller predicted the river would get 10 feet above flood levels in some areas.

Fierce winds, clocked at 113 mph on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, prompted warnings to motorists of dangerous driving on the region’s bridges.

The threat of floods prompted the state Office of Emergency Services to ask the California National Guard to prepare emergency shelters.

In San Francisco, winds fanned a house fire, killing one firefighter and injuring five other people.

Trees littered city streets, and officials closed roads through Golden Gate Park. Two of San Francisco International Airport’s four runways were closed by winds. San Francisco Bay was closed to commercial traffic.

The state Transportation Department reported 30 state highways closed at various points because of flooding, slides or other weather-caused problems. Major roads closed included Interstate 5 and Highway 101.

Amid all the other problems, a pregnant woman’s route to the hospital was blocked by flood waters, so she wound up at the St. Helena fire station instead and delivered a healthy baby girl.

Jake Scheideman was one of two firefighters who helped deliver the baby Thursday morning.

``It was pretty awesome,″ Scheideman said, ``right on the floor of the firehouse.″

In Southern California, meanwhile, a delay in the storm’s arrival allowed people there to shore up properties with sandbags and plastic tarps.

Up to 10 inches of rain was expected before a respite late Sunday or Monday.

Only 60 of the 700 residents of La Conchita dared to stay in their homes because of the crumbling 600-foot-high bluff.

Up the coast in Oregon, thunderstorms hit hard, with winds up to 93 mph reported at Cape Blanco on the south coast and about 60,000 people between Portland and Eugene, Ore., left without power.

``We’re blowing like crazy,″ said Coos County sheriff’s Sgt. Lisa Wampole. ``Some trees are down, there’s some high water and one slide. And it’s getting uglier by the minute.″

In Washington, a 40-foot tree pulled down by the wind crushed a motorist and more than 100,000 people lost power at the afternoon peak of the storm.

Tree limbs crashed onto power lines and highways, roofs were sheared off houses and houses were lifted off their foundations.

Gusts as high as 81 mph were reported at Cape Disappointment, Wash., with sustained winds of up to 50 mph reported in some areas.

Update hourly