Thousands still forced from homes by flooding in California tech hub

Feb 22 (Reuters) - The mucky water flooding a section of San Jose in Northern California forced officials on Wednesday to widen the area under mandatory evacuation orders, with about 14,000 people barred from returning to their homes following drenching rains.

San Jose, a hub of high-tech Silicon Valley, suffered major flooding on Tuesday triggering evacuation orders when Coyote Creek overran its banks, swamping the Rock Springs neighborhood. Water at some sites engulfed the entire first floor of residences while in other places it reached waist-high.

Officials said the city of about 1 million residents has not seen a flood approaching this magnitude since 1997.

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The gush of water inundating San Jose flowed down from the Anderson Reservoir, which was pushed to overflowing by a rainstorm that pounded Northern California from Sunday to Tuesday, officials said.

The reservoir's operators have been releasing water at maximum levels since Jan. 9 but it was not enough to avoid a spillover because of recent storms, Rachael Gibson, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, said at a news conference.

Trash-strewn floodwaters inundated city blocks in California's third-largest city, as firefighters in inflatable boats on Tuesday ferried stranded residents to dry ground.

Aside from 14,000 people whom officials said were placed under mandatory evacuation orders, with many taking up residence in emergency shelters, the city has issued a less severe evacuation advisory to 22,000 people, urging them to leave their homes as well.

"This is nothing you ever want to see in your community," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told a news conference.

Residents of the flooded area, which is near downtown and is made up of apartment buildings and townhomes, would not be allowed to return to their properties on Wednesday, Liccardo said. "We're not out of this yet," he said.

The Weather Service forecasts light rain to resume this weekend in the area.

It was not immediately clear how many homes suffered flood damage.

A section of the 101 Freeway in San Jose and another strip of the thoroughfare south of the city were closed by flooding, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Coyote Creek crested at a record-breaking 14.4 feet (4.4 meters) on Tuesday evening, said National Weather Service forecaster Bob Benjamin.

The previous record was in 1922, at 12.8 feet (3.9 meters), Benjamin said.

"Quite possibly we won't see a return to a flood this weekend because the (weather) system does not look terribly imposing," Benjamin said.

See earlier: Deadly storm hits California: