On an otherwise picture-perfect weekend under blue skies, floodwaters engulfed major portions of south Sacramento County and mudslides shut down Highway 50 for yet another day, the remnants of torrential storms that swept through the region during the week.
Few were affected as severely as the residents of Point Pleasant in the rural county area south of Elk Grove. Their Saturday began with an evacuation advisory, and many sought to protect their homes by filling sandbags at a Point Pleasant church.
“We’re staying and we have guns,” said Mary Hodge, who, along with her husband, said they intend to stay in their Point Pleasant home even as a voluntary evacuation order is in place. She said she was worried about looters.
“In ’97 it didn’t come in the home and we’re praying it won’t this time,” said Hodge, as flood waters 6 inches deep stood along the driveway to their home.
Sandbags stacked three high line the front of the garage.
“That is about all we can do – sandbag that garage,” Hodge said.
Midday, officials were keeping a watchful eye on a railroad levee in the Franklin area that they feared would breach and endanger Point Pleasant’s Glanville tract, according to the Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department. It was enough to force the closure of Twin Cities Road offramps from Interstate 5 – and raised the prospect that the freeway itself could be submerged if the levee didn’t hold.
As evening drew near, it appeared the levee would remain intact.
“There is no breach of the levee in the Franklin area,” said Cosumnes Fire Capt. Joshua Rubinstein from Fire Department headquarters just before 5 p.m. “The Franklin area is showing signs of improvement, but we want folks to be vigilant. We suggest being at the ready.”
There was also concern south of the Franklin area Saturday as work crews took emergency action to lower a portion of the ring levee surrounding the McCormick-Williamson Tract in an attempt to avoid a property damaging “flood pulse,” which last occurred in the floods of 1997.
The tract is a North Delta island just downstream of the confluence of the Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers, just northeast of the Delta Cross Channel. The 1,600-acre island is owned by The Nature Conservancy in California. It’s adjacent to Staten Island.
The National Weather Service said Saturday night that flooding in the McCormack-Williamson Tract may threaten levees on nearby Staten and Tyler islands.
In the Sierra, getting to the South Lake Tahoe Basin via Highway 50 this weekend became a lost cause. The week’s warm storms melted snowpack and a deluge of water and debris continued to fall down hillsides. Crews were slogging their way through a mudslide that occurred Friday evening when they encountered a new mudslide Saturday near Kyburz of equal size.
The new estimated time of reopening Highway 50 is 6 p.m. Sunday. Even then, drivers will face one-way controlled traffic in which eastbound and westbound drivers alternate travel.
“They were both two big mudslides,” said Deanna Shoopman, a spokeswoman with Caltrans District 3. “These mudslides are bringing down huge boulders, mud and trees … We’re working to reopen (Highway 50), but safety is our first priority. We want to make sure it is safe (for motorists).”
Not all was gloomy Saturday. The other major Sierra highway – Interstate 80 – opened in both directions by 12:30 p.m. after crews cleared a mudslide near Baxter.
Some positive signs emerged in the Valley as well. Wilton had an evacuation and shelter-in-place notice lifted as floodwaters began to recede and roads started to clear, according to the Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services.
Still, many roadways remain flooded – and public safety personnel appear to have their work cut out for days to come.
In the flooded watershed between the Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers, fire crews had to pluck two people off the roof of their pickup after rushing water swept the vehicle 50 feet off New Hope Road, according to Julie Rider, a Cosumnes Fire Department spokeswoman. One fire crew donned flotation devices and helmets and waded out to reach the victims before colleagues came with a boat to rescue the pair.
It was one of several rescue operations Cosumnes executed the past two days, Rider said, as drivers continued to believe they could navigate through flooded roads.
At Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, the sprawling rural south county home to hundreds of inmates, a handful of Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies grouped around buses, engines idling, awaiting word on whether to load in-custodies for the long drive to downtown Sacramento’s Main Jail. Meanwhile, a sheriff’s helicopter circled low overhead.
Roads in and around the facility at the end of Bruceville Road south of Elk Grove were mostly dry, with waters receding from the signs warning motorists of flooding. But the pasture land and dairy operations that checkerboard the area remained saturated with ponding in spots.
The Sheriff’s Department until further notice shut down inmate visits at the Rio Cosumnes facility, as well as the Main Jail, citing the challenges in moving inmates from Rio Cosumnes, according to spokesman Sgt. Tony Turnbull.
Pleasant Grove High School was awaiting evacuees but remained empty late Saturday morning. Joe Airoso of the Elk Grove Unified School District waited outside the school’s cafeteria, ready to take in residents chased by floodwaters.
“We’re waiting for folks to get here. We’ll direct them and get them a place,” he said. By late afternoon, signs had improved enough that officials were debating whether to keep the shelter open.
Water glided Saturday across Point Pleasant Road like a sheet 6 inches deep near Lambert Road as residents hustled to get out of the area.
Silas Halewu said that after his family’s home flooded in January, they had to rebuild and install new drywall. Now, there is a good chance they’ll have to do it again, Halewu said as he and others filled sandbags at a Point Pleasant church Saturday morning. While most of the house is empty, his family was trying to protect belongings in the garage.
“We gutted the house but it’s all for nothing because it’s about to get flooded again,” Halewu said.