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New Storm Hits Northern California

February 6, 1998

GUERNEVILLE, Calif. (AP) _ With boarded-up store fronts and sandbags along Main Street, residents turned their eyes to the rising Russian River as a string of storms lined up offshore.

Already, more than 100 have fled their homes for shelter in Sebastopol, a few miles away. Among them were Kathleen Avina, her daughter, two sons and grandchild. This is her 14th winter in Guerneville _ and her 18th flood.

``We’re definitely moving this year,″ she said Thursday night. ``It’s just so wonderful the rest of the year, except for the few days when it floods.″

The last few days have seen a lot of flooding across Northern California, and more high water could be in store if the storms come ashore with heavy rain and high winds as expected. One storm was expected to hit by tonight, and another on Sunday.

At least four deaths have been blamed on the weather and thousands of homes were without power after Thursday’s storm swelled rivers and lashed the coast with wind gusts of 60 mph.

Pacific Gas & Electric said about 12,000 homes and businesses were without power Thursday evening from central California to the Oregon line.

Near Monterey Bay, the National Guard evacuated the 5,000 residents of Pajaro late Thursday because the surging Pajaro River had breached a levee, inundating area farmland. It was the the second evacuation this week.

Hillsides crumbling because of the rain forced many to flee their homes; some dwellings teetered above the Pacific at Bodega Bay, a seaside town in Sonoma County, after a seawall collapsed under a pounding surf.

Wind and rain caused officials to cancel more than 70 flights at San Francisco International Airport on Thursday with delays on other flights of up to two hours. Mayor Willie Brown declared a state of emergency, citing more than $14 million in storm damage.

Statewide, Gov. Pete Wilson has declared 10 counties emergency areas. And the Napa and Sacramento rivers also could be trouble, said Maurice Roos, chief hydrologist for the state Department of Water Resources.

But in Sonoma County, the concern for now is the Russian River.

Guerneville store owners put plywood over windows, plastic tarps on doorways and moved merchandise to higher shelves. Residents in the town about 60 miles north of San Francisco packed up and moved possessions to the second floors of their homes.

``It may seem like I’m not concerned, but this is my fourth flood,″ Jennifer Neeley said as friends put sandbags in front of her clothing store.

P.J. Wheeler was blase about the weather, like many flood veterans. He played a piano between carrying armloads of possessions from his downstairs studio to his living quarters upstairs.

Wheeler said if the river does rise to record levels _ which would put the water at the ceiling of the studio he uses to build bird cages _ he’ll adapt.

``I’ll just have to get my big boots,″ he said.

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