Floodwaters lashed Northern California in February 1986

The Sacramento Bee is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. This story is part of our ongoing coverage.

Feb. 19, 1986: More Northern Californians were driven from their homes Tuesday as floodwaters from the eighth day of rain lapped at parts of at least 19 counties and sent mudslides, logjams and surges of water rushing across highways, into houses and smashing against dams and bridges.

Residents of nearly 6,500 homes damaged by the raging floods were evacuated.

In the Sacramento area, concern for the straining American River levees mounted as water inched toward the tops, testing the barriers more than ever since thousands of homes have been built in the floodplains behind them. As the river rose, 500 people were assigned to patrol the levees.

The high water broke through a cofferdam near Auburn (see photo above), sending 100,000 acre-feet of water into Folsom Lake and filling it nearly to its 1 million acre-foot capacity. The lake rose to within 2 inches of the top of Folsom Dam, forcing officials to release the largest volume of water in its 31-year history into the American River – 125,000 cubic feet per second.

Five rivers (the Sacramento, Cosumnes, Eel, Napa and Russian) and Clear Lake reached flood stages Tuesday before the latest storm moved in.

Flash flood warnings were issued for parts of 10 counties – El Dorado, Placer, Nevada, Plumas, Napa, Sonoma, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa. The National Weather Service said the flood warnings should remain in effect until this morning.

As the flooding spread Tuesday, local officials declared emergencies in nine more counties, bringing the emergency count to 24 – parts of 19 counties and five cities.

The giant Sacramento River was threatening to overflow its levee in Glenn County. Many of the 1,200 residents of riverside Hamilton City ignored warnings to evacuate Tuesday and spent the day sandbagging the manmade river banks.

On northward, the Tehama County Sheriff’s office warned 386 residents to flee after the Sacramento River broke through the levee.

Humboldt County officials said 200 homes were flooded along the Eel River.

In the Sacramento area, rain and flooding Tuesday night forced officials to close Highway 50 at 65th Street, Interstate 5 at Twin Cities Road and Highway 99 at Mack Road.

Thom Akeman

Death toll reached 74 during ’55 flood

1955: Christmas Eve 1955 was a very wet one. Days of torrential rains had soaked the Central Valley. Something had to give – and as this Bee story from Dec. 24 explains, what gave was a levee:

Thousands of residents of Yuba City, Sutter County, fled from their homes early today when two breaks in the Feather River levee flooded the town. With them also went thousands of residents of Marysville, Yuba County, who sought safety in Yuba City when Marysville’s 12,500 were ordered evacuated because of the dangerous high levels of the Yuba and Feather Rivers.

Including the 10,000 residents of Yuba City, it is estimated some 30,000 persons living in the area have been affected by the flood conditions caused by the rampaging rivers.

In Marysville, which, ironically, remained virtually dry although isolated, sheriff’s officers who remained on duty reported three persons apparently lost their lives in the Yuba City exodus. What the property damage will be, none can guess, except that it may run into the millions of dollars.

By the time the floodwaters receded, the death toll had reached 74.

Cartoon Corner

Rex Babin, July 17, 2009. The temperature reached 105 degrees that day in Sacramento, the fourth day of a six-day stretch in which the thermometer hit 100-plus degrees in the city.