Western flooding displaces thousands, destroys property

LINCOLN, Calif. (AP) — Helicopters plucked stranded farmers from rooftops and sunken pickup trucks Friday after five days of relentless rain sent 100,000 people fleeing their homes across the West.
Helicopters were also sent to evacuate some of the 2,200 people trapped for three days in Yosemite National Park, where flooding offered a spectacular show of roaring waterfalls but blocked the only roads in and out. The choppers waited outside the park while rescuers scouted for dry landing spots.
In Reno, Nev., casinos removed the sandbags and reopened after the city’s worst flooding in 40 years. Flights resumed at the airport Friday afternoon, allowing some of the thousands of stranded tourists to begin returning home. Nevada’s largest legal brothel, the Mustang Ranch, was inundated with half a foot of water but expected to reopen over the weekend.
“The girls are anxious to return to work,” said the manager, who would identify herself only as Bridgette. “I’ll bet the customers are, too.”
A mudslide blocked the main road to the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant on the California coast, prompting officials to declare an “unusual event” Ñ the lowest level of alert. The road was cleared by Friday evening.
Governors of five Western states have declared a state of emergency in 84 counties since being deluged with snow and rain in a series of nonstop storms that began on Dec. 26. At least 22 deaths have been blamed on the storms. The governors of California and Idaho appealed for federal disaster help.
The storms blocked major highways and rail lines in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. House-sized boulders crashed onto a Sierra Nevada highway, and California’s scenic coastal Highway 1 was cut in at least four places.
A break in the weather allowed many evacuees from the hard-hit Yuba City and Marysville area to return home, but others waited at shelters, motels and gas stations for the floodwaters to recede. Both Northern California cities were evacuated Thursday night after the flooding Feather River threatened levees. One levee broke, swamping orchards.
“I know that song, ‘it never rains in California — it pours.’ Well, yeah, it pours,” said Ginger Washburn of Olivehurst, who was among 900 evacuees at a high school shelter in Lincoln.
In Woodland, where 240 evacuees stayed at the Yolo County Fairgrounds shelter, people watched the TV news, hoping to catch a glimpse of their homes or those of friends and neighbors.
“Our house burned down in August,” said Tamara Null of Yuba City who was there with seven children, her grandson, parents, a sister and a niece. “We were just starting to get it rebuilt and now we’re flooded. I’m getting used to this.”
Thousands of acres were under a layer of muddy water, and the roofs of homes and farms were all that could be seen in many areas. More than 40 inches of rain have fallen since Sunday in the Sierra Nevada watershed.
On the north fork of the Mokelumne River in San Joaquin County, floodwaters spilled over a levee and swept a marina and at least 230 boats downstream, ramming them into a bridge. Floodwaters also inundated three mobile homes and the marina store. No one was hurt.
“People had just gotten off the boats when the levee broke,” said Dan Deckert, whose father owns the marina.
Coast Guard helicopter crews ran nonstop rescue operations. In one, three people and three dogs were whisked off the roof of a house near Olivehurst. Other people were lifted to safety from their automobiles.
“There were wires at the tops of the trees when we rescued one man and an older woman from a car,” Petty Officer Dan Sweetser said. They were “up to their necks in water.”
In Reno, the Truckee River began slowly subsiding after swamping scores of homes and businesses.
“We’re pushing back the sandbags and cleaning up the sidewalk,” said Pat Martin, a spokeswoman at Harrah’s Reno casino. “Since we’ve never closed in our 60-year history, we’ve never had a reopening.”
Nevada Gov. Bob Miller said the flooding left hundreds of homes uninhabitable and said the damage could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Idaho’s flooding began easing, but thousands remained isolated by washed-out roads or had no power for a third straight day.
In Oregon, where the floodwaters also began to go down, Bill Gilliam was already making plans to reopen his outdoor-equipment store in Ashland next month.
“There isn’t a better piece of real estate to be sitting on, and this is one of those tradeoffs you have to live with,” Gilliam said.