- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

FERNLEY, Nev. (AP) — More snow piled up yesterday in the Sierra Nevada, where at least 5 feet had fallen from a storm that contributed to flooding in Fernley, killed at least three persons and blacked out thousands of utilities customers.

Forecasters predicted more rain and snow, but without the severity of the weather that has pounded the three-state region for three days.

Winter storm warnings remained in effect for some mountainous areas and the main highway through the Sierra Nevada was closed during the night. Residents were warned about the threat of mudslides in parts of rain-soaked Southern California where slopes had been denuded by the fall’s wildfires.

One hiker was missing in snow-covered mountains in Southern California, and four snowmobilers were missing in heavy snow in the mountains of southern Colorado.

A ruptured levee on a rain-swollen canal spilled a frigid “wall of water” Saturday into the desert town of Fernley, flooding hundreds of homes and forcing the rescue of dozens of people by helicopter and boat.

No injuries were reported in the town about 30 miles east of Reno, after a section of the Truckee Canal levee up to 150 feet long broke soon after 4 a.m. Saturday.

As many as 3,500 people were temporarily stranded and an estimated 1,500 were displaced from their homes, Lyon County Fire Chief Scott Huntley said Saturday night. About 25 people remained at a shelter set up at a high school after a peak of about 150 earlier in the day.

Chief Huntley, one of the first on the scene, described the flood as a “wall of water about 2 feet high going down Farm District Road.”

Eric Cornett fled from his home with his wife and three children.

“We saw water coming in the back door and tried to grab as much stuff as possible to save it. The water was rising very quickly and it was scary,” he said.

Two helicopters aided boat crews in rescuing at least 18 people from driveways and roofs.

The cause of the levee rupture wasn’t clear, but one canal official suggested rodents burrowing holes in the earthen bank might have contributed to it.

Gov. Jim Gibbons declared the county an emergency area and the Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to survey the damage today.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared emergencies in three counties hit hard by the storms, and Oregon Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski declared a state of emergency for one county that had severe wind damage.

At least 5 feet of snow had fallen on ski areas in the rugged Sierra Nevada by early yesterday Sunday, with 9 feet forecast at some higher elevations, the National Weather Service said. As much as 3 feet more could hit the area by tomorrow evening, the weather service said.

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