- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 31, 2005

PETALUMA, Calif. (AP) — A powerful storm yesterday set off mudslides that blocked highways and sent rivers and creeks over their banks and into cities across Northern California. At least a half-dozen persons had to be rescued from the rushing water, and forecasters were warning of another storm today.

California officials urged residents along the Napa and Russian rivers and on hillsides to collect their valuables, gather emergency supplies and get out.

In the city of Napa, near the heart of wine country, the river was already 5 feet over flood stage. Further inland, Reno, Nev., was seeing its worst flooding since a 1997 flood that caused $1 billion in damage.

Firefighters in the Sonoma area rescued two persons from a mobile-home park, where 4 feet of rushing water washed at least one home off its foundation, and they were searching for a third person, said Division Chief Bob Norrbom with the Sonoma Valley Fire Authority. Cars floated through the park, pushed by the water.

Elsewhere, television footage showed a stranded driver being plucked from the back of a pickup truck by a rescue helicopter, and another person being pulled to safety through the water.

Rick Diaz went out into a flooded Petaluma neighborhood in a 14-foot Zodiac boat on his own to ferry residents to dry ground and rescue their pets.

“He’s a hero,” said a tearful Suzi Keber after the wet suit-clad Mr. Diaz rescued two pet lizards from her home.

In downtown San Anselmo, the creek overflowed into as many as 70 businesses, town administrator Debbie Stutsman said. Two persons rescued from the rising water there were hospitalized with hypothermia, she said.

“I’m looking out of my office now at merchants bringing their damaged goods out into the street,” Miss Stutsman said. “The entire downtown area was under 4 feet of water.”

In St. Helena, the Napa River was at record levels, seven feet over flood stage. The last record flood there destroyed dozens of homes and businesses.

Mudslides closed several major roads, including Interstate 80 in the Sierra Nevada about 25 miles west of Reno. Six tractor-trailer rigs were caught up in one slide on the interstate early yesterday, but no injuries were reported.

Interstate 80, the major corridor that links Northern California and points east, was expected to remain closed for at least two days, said California Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Dinger.

“No work can be done until the slide stabilizes, and we don’t know when that will occur,” Mr. Dinger said.

The Russian River at the Sonoma County town of Guerneville could rise as high as 11 feet above flood stage if the storm hits today as expected, officials said.

Together, the two weekend storms could add as much as 6 inches of rain to the already waterlogged region, said Rick Canepa, a weather service meteorologist in Monterey.

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