Thousands ordered to evacuate as California river rises

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Thousands of people along a flooded river were under evacuation orders Wednesday as a relentless storm pounded Northern California, drenching the San Francisco Bay Area and pummeling the Sierra Nevada with snow.

Some two dozen communities along the Russian River in Sonoma County were ordered evacuated Tuesday evening shortly before the waterway passed flood stage. Forecasters predicted it would peak at about 46 feet (14 meters) by Wednesday evening, which would be the highest level in about a quarter-century.

Authorities said evacuations were ordered for about 4,000 people in and around Guerneville, located about an hour's drive north of San Francisco.

"We want you to leave now," Sheriff Mark Essick warned. "The roads may become impassable and you may not be able to get out. So even if you live in an area that is not flooding at this moment, you may not be able to get out when the water rises."

There also was concern about potential mudslides in hillside areas saturated from days of downpours, and in areas scarred by 2017 wildfires.

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Winter storms and weather across the United States 2019
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Winter storms and weather across the United States 2019
James Spanos pushes a cart of his belongings on a snow-covered street during a winter storm, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Portland, Maine. Scarves, hoods and gloves were necessary for New England residents venturing outdoors as the region endures a storm that can dump up to 18 inches of snow. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Horses stand over a major winter storm which dropped around 8 inches of snow in Taos, New Mexico, U.S., January 11, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Hay
Caleb Seely rides a unicycle on a snow covered sidewalk as he heads home after helping shovel out his brother's driveway during a winter storm, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Portland, Maine. The extra knobby tire on Seely's ride provided traction on a day when snow, sleet and freezing rain kept most motorists indoors. Parts of New England residents are bracing for up to 18 inches of snow. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Traffic moved through the town center after a major winter storm dropped around 8 inches of snow in Taos, New Mexico, U.S., January 11, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Hay
Don Locke, of Pottsville, Pa., clears snow and ice from his car along 12th Street in Pottsville, Pa., on Sunday, January 20, 2019. (Andy Matsko/The Republican-Herald via AP)
A couple takes photos at the frozen fountain in Bryant Park January 11, 2019 in New York. New York City was hit with bitter temperatures and high winds. - The low for Friday was 22 Farenheit (-5.5 Celsius) (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Motorists try to fix their windshield wipers during a winter storm, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Portland, Maine. Snow, sleet and freezing rain is making travel hazardous throughout much of New England. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
People take photos of the frozen fountain in Bryant Park on January 11, 2019 in New York. New York City was hit with bitter temperatures and high winds. - The low for Friday was 22 Farenheit (-5.5 Celsius) (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Crews clear snow at the Albany International Airport in Colonie, N.Y., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. A major winter storm that blanketed much of the Midwest with snow earlier in the weekend is barreling toward New England, where it is expected to wreak transportation havoc from slick and clogged roads to hundreds of canceled airline flights. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
Birds play in the frozen fountain in Bryant Park January 11, 2019 in New York. New York City was hit with bitter temperatures and high winds. The low for Friday was 22 Farenheit (-5.5 Celsius) (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Lakewood CO - JANUARY 11: Meredith Mills pushes shopping carts back into King Soppers on January 11, 2019 in Lakewood, Colorado. Snow continues to fall in the metro area. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
SILVER SPRING, MD - JAN 9: Emmi Horne, 8, tries to catch snowflakes on her toungue as she walks through downtown Silver Spring, Maryland during a brief snow squall with her mom, Terry Horne, right. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 8: A pedestrian passes through a light dusting of snow on a Columbia Road sidewalk in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston on Jan. 8, 2019. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Waves from the East River are seen in front of the Brooklyn Bridge and the skyline of Manhattan in New York on January 7, 2019. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
Keith Morris, of the City of Owensboro's Street Department, takes off a hose after loading 1,000 gallons of salt brine into a tank on a truck, Friday afternoon, Jan. 11, 2019, so it can be spread on city roads in Owensboro, Ky. The National Weather Service had issued a winter weather advisory on Friday of accumulating snow moving into the area Friday evening into early Saturday. (Alan Warren/The Messenger-Inquirer via AP)
Traffic moves along I-70 near Lawrence, Kan., Friday, Jan. 11, 2019 ahead of an expected snow storm. The area is under a Winter Weather Advisory. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
A plow treats Douglas County Road 438 near Lawrence, Kan., Friday, Jan. 11, 2019 ahead of an expected snow storm. The area is under a Winter Weather Advisory. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
A pedestrian walks across the street in downtown Scranton, Pa., on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. A major winter storm brought some of the coldest temperatures of the season and covered a large swath of the country in snow as it wreaked havoc on air travel and caused slick road conditions throughout New England Sunday. (Butch Comegys/The Times-Tribune via AP)
Marvin Hooks wears a face mask to protect him from the cold as he walks on North Street in Pittsfield, Mass., Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. Bitter cold and gusty winds swept across the eastern U.S. Monday with falling temperatures replacing the weekend's falling snow. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)
A runner moves through West Park on the Northside of Pittsburgh on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. A major winter storm brought some of the coldest temperatures of the season and covered a large swath of the country in snow as it wreaked havoc on air travel and caused slick road conditions throughout New England Sunday. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Dan Cappella, of Pottsville, Pa., clears snow away on Howard Avenue in Pottsville, Pa., on Sunday, January 20, 2019. (Andy Matsko/The Republican-Herald via AP)
Ben Jennings snowblows his driveway on Sunday, Jan. 20, in Glenville, N.Y., where 16 inches of snow fell from Saturday evening through noon Sunday. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)
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Earlier in the day, a mudslide near Monte Rio near Guerneville trapped a man and a woman before they were rescued, messy but unharmed.

"Well I fell into the mud when the tree fell over the top of me. It happened so fast you don't even know, you know?" Kear Koch told KGO-TV.

Elsewhere in Sonoma County, several people had to be rescued from cars that became stranded while trying to drive through flooded roads, including one woman who was rescued by boat.

Earlier Tuesday at the River Inn Grill in Guerneville, workers were preparing by putting perishables on high shelves in storage rooms.

But manager Andre Vazquez said the one-story building could be largely submerged that if the river reaches 46 feet.

"If it gets to 46 feet, it's done. There is no way to prepare for that," Vazquez said.

Guerneville often floods during heavy rain and people seemed nonchalant Tuesday about the threat, said Joseph Chung, whose parents own the Koala's Fine Food restaurant.

"A couple of weeks ago people were using kayaks to get to their mailbox," Chung said. "If it gets really bad, we'll get out."

'I could not afford to buy flood insurance...'

But Dee Dee Rydberg removed computers and printers from her business, Guerneville Graphics and Printing.

"We're getting ready for the flooding. My threshold is 43 feet," she told KPIX-TV. "Flood insurance raised 800 percent throughout the area. I could not afford to buy flood insurance. So I'm packing up my stuff and getting out."

Several communities also were under evacuation orders in Butte County because of flooded creeks. Other waterways, including the Napa River, also were expected to overflow their banks as an ocean-spanning plume of moisture continued tracking through the West. It already closed roads and schools and toppled trucks and trees from Oregon to Montana.

The National Weather Service also issued flood warnings and flash flood watches for the San Francisco Bay Area and many parts of the Sacramento area, lasting into Thursday morning.

Relentless rain forced the cancellation or delay of hundreds of flights in San Francisco and the city of Santa Rosa received a record 5.66 inches (14 centimeters) of rain, making it the wettest day for the date since at least 1902.

In the Sierra Nevada, the California Department of Transportation reported that a maintenance yard above 6,000 feet had received 30 inches (76 centimeters) of snow along on Tuesday.

Several mountain and foothill roads were repeatedly closed because of whiteout conditions or to clear trucks and cars that spun out on the slippery pavement.

Interstate 80, a major road that winds over the Donner Summit, was to remain closed into Wednesday morning for about 50 miles (80 kilometers), from Colfax to the Nevada state line.

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