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Storms Batter Weather-Weary Californians for Second Day

March 11, 1995

ST. HELENA, Calif. (AP) _ Gale-force winds and torrents of rain pounded Northern California for a second day Friday, swelling rivers, closing major highways and leaving thousands of residents homeless.

Flash flood and mudslide warnings were issued for much of a 200-mile stretch from Sonoma to Monterey.

National Guard helicopters that were to evacuate residents along the Napa and Russian rivers were grounded in Sacramento due to high wind, but a chopper from Lemoore Naval Air Station did reach 40 people caught in a flooded Monterey canyon.

``They fished two of them out of the river,″ said Bob McElroy of the county emergency office. ``They towed the rest across the water in a boat.″

An avalanche shut a highway in the Sierra Nevada, where winds of 80 mph whipped through mountain passes. Mudslides closed Highway 17, the main route through the Santa Cruz Mountains.

River Street, which runs along the Guadalupe River in San Jose, turned into a real river as water spilled over the banks, forcing some residents from their homes and leading the mayor to declare a state of emergency. It also forced postponement of the San Jose Sharks hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings.

James Murdy stood on his porch in a rain jacket, shorts and firefighters’ boots. His garage was flooded and he worried the basement of his sandbagged house would be next.

``I’m ready, if it gets much worse, to go down there and grab papers, tax forms, get the cats and leave,″ Murdy said.

The drenching rains also moved into Southern California, after residents had waited anxiously for several days. Up to 4 inches of rain were expected in most areas of the south before the storm, originally forecast to arrive late Wednesday, begins to clear out.

So far the damage is much less than in January, when two weeks of Pacific storms caused more than $300 million in damage statewide and 11 deaths.

In Northern California, Kaiser Elementary School, which sits below hillsides still scarred from the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, was evacuated Friday morning when the dirt above began moving.

The California Highway Patrol reported 400 accidents in the San Francisco Bay area at one point, and power remained out to about 100,000 homes and businesses.

Exasperated residents in the Russian River area, which endured disastrous flooding only two months ago, said they can’t take any more.

``Isn’t this a bitch?″ said Stefan Goya, pulling a rubber boat through the muddy water after abandoning his car in Rio Nido.

``I’m not expecting the water to reach my home _ it’s just that you’re without power for days, and then there’s all the people you know who just finished repairing from the last one.″

St. Helena, a picturesque wine country town on the Napa River, remained one of the worst hit, said police spokesman Kerry Porterfield. Four hundred people were evacuated Thursday from low-lying mobile home parks and two apartment buildings.

``They said get out so we left. All we got were our clothes, and we got our cars, too,″ said trailer park resident Don King, who took shelter at a high school.

Santa Cruz County officials reported the San Lorenzo River was at its highest levels since a series of destructive floods in the early 1980s. Also, the Salinas River overflowed Friday, cutting off several highways in Monterey County, where 2,500 people were evacuated from their homes in the Carmel Valley.

In Southern California, sandbags were piled waist-high in La Conchita and other flood-prone coastal areas. A batter of mud oozed onto Pacific Coast Highway and toward beach homes in Malibu.

Up to 15 inches of rain fell in San Luis Obispo County on Friday while in the Tijuana River Valley, farmers and homeowners braced for the worst as water neared the top of Mexico’s Rodriguez Dam. Residents were poised to flee and U.S. Border Patrol agents set up temporary animal corrals on high ground.

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