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Receding floodwaters reveal fields of dead cows, horses

January 9, 1997

ARBOGA, Calif. (AP) _ Floodwaters have given way to fields of death. Hundreds of drowned cows, horses and other farm animals _ their bloated carcasses tangled in barbed wire or mired in ditches _ lie strewn across the soggy landscape of Northern California.

``It was like an orchard of Holsteins,″ said Michele Luis, who joined workers at Martin Poldervaart’s dairy farm Thursday to clear the last of 200 dead cattle from acres of pasture.

Water from a ruptured levee on the Feather River flooded the farm 100 miles northeast of San Francisco last week.

The Poldervaarts have lost about $300,000 in livestock. Some cattle were ensnared in ditches or fences. One cow, snagged on a small gate, had to be burned free with torches. The stench of the rotting animals was everywhere.

``The sheriff’s department just wouldn’t let us in,″ said Mrs. Luis’ husband, David. ```So 200 head died a slow death. It was gruesome.″

In addition to the livestock, many barns and tractors were soaked beyond repair. Overall damage across the region was at almost $1.6 billion, with many counties yet to report. Levees crumbled in the Stockton area, 60 miles east of San Francisco, as releases from overburdened dams kept keep water levels high on the San Joaquin River.

Even though thousands of acres of prime farmland were under water, experts say the flooding happened too early to harm much of the 1997 harvest. Crops such as almonds and fruit trees are dormant and leafless this time of year and thus safe unless there is another string of storms later.

About 20 percent of the artichoke crop harvested along the central coast has been damaged, not enough for a big loss this season.

``If this were to occur again in March, we would be sweating it,″ said Mary Comfort, manager of the California Artichoke Commission.

A March 1995 flood washed away millions of dollars worth of vegetables and toppled 750,000 almond trees.

As for the area’s winter wheat crop, it was still too early to evaluate damage. An estimated 150,000 acres of red winter wheat could be damaged.

``Wheat can be under water for a while because it’s a grass,″ said Bonnie Fernandez of the California Wheat Commission. ``Our concern is whether it’s a situation where you’ve got water running over so it takes the topsoil.″

For now, losses to major machinery, homes, barns and wells appear to be the major headache for farmers.

``A lot of farmers are going to have really severe problems restoring their property and getting back in business,″ said Dave Kranz, a spokesman for the California Farm Bureau.

The loss of cattle to the state may also not be too serious at this point, Kranz said. He estimated 1,000 cows were gone from a state total of 1.2 million.

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