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Flooding, Mud in California; Heavy Snow, High Wind in Mountains

February 18, 1986

Undated (AP) _ Waves of storms rolling in off the Pacific pummeled California and the Far West with rain, floods, mudslides and battering surf Monday, while avalanches struck two towns and killed two people, bringing the foul-weather death toll to five.

Hundreds fled rising water in sandbagged and storm-weary California, where three people had drowned and three were missing - one after a mudslide destroyed her home and two who were swept into storm-tossed waters.

In California’s Sierra Nevada, massive rockslides shut Interstate 80 and covered railroad tracks, blocking an Amtrak passenger train with about 600 people aboard.

An avalanche cut off June Lake, Calif., a ski resort near Yosemite National Park, and another avalanche struck Twin Lakes, a nearby town. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Other avalanches killed one person each in Wyoming and Utah, while heavy snow and wind closed several highways in the mountains of the West.

Crews stacked sandbags as the Truckee River swelled in Reno and Sparks, Nev., and Gov. Richard Bryan declared a state of emergency in the northwestern Nevada counties of Washoe, Lyon, Douglas and Carson City, and placed the National Guard on standby.

More than a foot of rain had fallen at some points since the Pacific storms began last week, up to 8 feet of snow had fallen on some mountains, and wind exceeded hurricane force, with gusts to 100 mph in the Sierra Nevada and stronger in Colorado. Temperatures in Montana plummeted 50 degrees from Sunday into Monday.

″They’re talking about three weather fronts coming in in the next 36 hours, dumping something like eight-tenths of an inch of rain every three hours. They’re talking about the river cresting two to four feet higher than what it is, and we’re already above flood stage,″ Tehama County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Nelson, in Red Bluff on the Sacramento River, told Associated Press Radio.

The Napa County cities of Napa and Yountville were flooded Monday and authorities evacuated about 100 people from mobile home parks and houses near the rain-swollen Napa River, said Undersheriff Arthur Thompson.

″There’s so much water coming down and the ground is saturated,″ he said. ″There’s no place for it to go.″

The National Guard was called out to help in sandbagging and rescue efforts in Napa County and another unit was on standby status in Tehama County, where the rising Sacramento River threatened communities around Red Bluff.

″The figures vary from 400 to 600 people evacuated along the (Napa) river,″ said Paula Reyes, director of the Napa chapter of the American Red Cross. ″It’s just pouring rain down here and it hasn’t stopped.″

In Marin County north of San Francisco, about 80 people along Corte Madera Creek in Ross were warned to consider evacuating. Mudslides and flooding forced officials to close several roads. A house slid down a hill, injuring four people inside, one critically, officials said.

Sections of U.S. 101, a major north-south route, were closed by flooding and mudslides in northern California and Oregon, along with other highways near the coast.

In hard-hit Guerneville, the Russian River was 13 feet above flood stage, flooding homes, vehicles and farms. Volunteer Don Loukonen at the Sonoma County Office of Emergency Services said 163 people stayed at a shelter Sunday night and more were evacuated Monday. A 100-unit mobile home park was evacuated Sunday.

Loukenen said most sandbagging efforts there had been abandoned: ″After a certain point, you just give up and leave.″

In the Santa Cruz County town of Boulder Creek, where a woman was missing after a mudslide destroyed her home, the ground was too unstable to search for her Monday, said sheriff’s Lt. Jim Bonar. He said 25 homes near the slide were evacuated, and that a section of highway between there and Brookdale ″slipped into history″ in a mudslide.

Up to 15,000 people were still without electricity Monday, down from 175,000 on Saturday, said Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Faith Kramer.

In 24 hours into Monday, 3 to 6 inches of rain had fallen on Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties north of San Francisco. Since Wednesday, 15.3 inches had fallen at Johnson Ranch in the Santa Cruz mountains 50 miles south of San Francisco, with 12.3 inches in the Big Sur mountains between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the weather service said.

Waves up to 12 feet gnawed at the Southern California coast Monday, sucking tons of sand to sea. At least nine people had to be rescued from sinking boats off Los Angeles over the weekend, authorities said.

Out in the Pacific, high waves hit Hawaii’s northern shores, and more than 100 houses were damaged Sunday by wind that knocked out electricity to as many as 40,000 customers around the city of Hilo, Civil Defense officials said. Wind over the tops of Hawaii Island’s volcanoes reached 100 mph, the weather service said.

Up to 8 feet of snow had fallen in several days in the mountains around Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada-California border, and most ski resorts there were closed Monday because of power outages and closed highways.

No one could get in or out of June Lake, said Mono County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Lynn McCourtney. She did not know whether the town of 500 people about 20 miles southeast of Yosemite had power, and did not know the extent of damage there or in Twin Lakes, about 50 miles to the north.

Two rockslides covered all four lanes of Interstate 80 and a major railroad line in the Sierra Nevada on Monday after intense rainstorms weakened the mountainside. Officials said it would be three to seven days before the highway reopened.

Police said two cars were knocked part of the way down a 300-foot slope by the falling rock and mud. Four people were rescued uninjured from one car, and there were no occupants in the other car, which apparently had been abandoned earlier, said Nevada County sheriff’s Capt. Jack Bayer.

Across the state line in Nevada, a slide knocked out the westbound lanes of the highway.

Two more rockslides, at Emigrant Gap and near Truckee, Calif., forced the westbound California Zephyr to halt in Truckee, then backtrack and head east with its passengers, who were put up for the night in Reno, Nev., said Amtrak spokesman Arthur Lloyd.

The Reno-Carson City area got up to 6 inches of rain in 24 hours. Nevada Emergency Management Director Bob Andrews said he had reports of evacuations of low-lying trailer parks plus flooded streets in Carson City, and that his agency was joined local officials in passing out sand bags.

In Colorado, more than 150 avalanches set off by up to 20 inches of snow were reported in 24 hours Sunday, and there were probably up to 300 others that went unreported, the state Avalanche Information Center said.

The weather service said Monday that gusts in excess of 75 mph were reported around Boulder, Colo. - hurricane force is 74 mph - and gusts to 123 mph were reported Saturday north of Fort Collins.

Avalanches and blizzard conditions also closed highways Monday in Wyoming, Utah and northwestern Montana. Part of Interstate 90 in Washington state, the state’s main east-west route, was closed several hours Sunday because of avalanche danger.

In Utah, near Bridal Veil Falls, a slide of mud, snow and ice blocked the Provo River for about 30 minutes before the water broe through, washing out sections of a highway, and one-story snack shop.

Two people injured by a snow slide Monday near Utah’s Solitude ski resort were rescued in the afternoon. One was flown by helicopter to a hospital and the other was hospitalized with a broken leg, said Salt Lake County authorities, who had no more details.

A ski patrolman in Wyoming was killed Monday when an avalanche tumbled down Apres Vous Mountain near Teton Village in Wyoming, said Teton County Sheriff Roger Millward. The patrol had just finished dynamiting to provoke slides as a safety measure. The area was precarious with a foot of new snow.

One man was killed and another injured in a snow slide in Big Cottonwood Canyon east of Salt Lake City, officials said.

Temperatures close to 70 were forecast around Denver, but arctic air flowed over Montana and Helena, which had a high of 51 Sunday, was down to zero Monday.

A teen-ager drowned Saturday during a rafting trip on swollen Sulphur Creek in Northern California, an experienced surfer was killed Sunday off Hermosa Beach about 10 miles south of Los Angeles, and a man fishing from a jetty in Orange County was apparently swept into the sea by high waves and drowned.

In addition to the woman who was missing in the Santa Cruz County mudslide, a man who had been riding a raft was missing after he was thrown overboard on Walnut Creek Channel in Concord. A pedestrian was missing after being swept off a seawall at Ocean Beach in San Diego County.

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