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‘A lot of people boating around.’ How flood turned Guerneville into an island

Guerneville, in Sonoma County, became an island Wednesday after the Russian River flooded.
Guerneville, in Sonoma County, became an island Wednesday after the Russian River flooded. Michael Laszlo

An atmospheric river turned Guerneville into a virtual island Wednesday, leaving the tiny Sonoma County community surrounded by water after the Russian River overflowed its banks.

As Sacramento and much of Northern California coped under a third day of heavy rain, Guerneville was completely inundated. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department issued an evacuation order Tuesday afternoon, but there were still plenty of stragglers hanging around the old logging community, located about 20 miles west of the heart of Sonoma wine country.

The river was expected to start receding late Wednesday.

“The water came up and there’s a lot of people boating around,” said Michael Laszlo, 30, a Guerneville resident who left his house at 3 a.m. and was traveling the community in his 14-foot motor boat. “We’re pretty safe.”

Laszlo said in a phone interview he was able to rescue one of his neighbors from a home near the east bank of the river. “He had his cat and all,” Laszlo said. “I was just boating by and he told me what was going on. So I went up to his porch and grabbed him.”

More dramatic rescues were reported. The Sheriff’s Department said a California Highway Patrol helicopter landed on Main Street around midday Wednesday to evacuate a woman “having a serious medical issue.”

No deaths were reported, and Laszlo said his home still had electricity.

Alan Haynes, of the federal California Nevada River Forecast Center, said Guerneville was a victim of multiple days of pounding rains. “We basically had an atmospheric river,” Haynes said. “It ended up pouring moisture over the same area, from the Bay Area to Cape Mendocino, for several days.”

The river stood at about 44 feet Wednesday afternoon, or about 13 feet above flood stage, and was headed toward levels not seen since 1940. It was expected to crest at around midnight, and finally recede below flood stage sometime Thursday night, according to the Forecast Center’s data.

Haynes said another hot spot was Cache Creek around the town of Yolo, where waters topped the flood stage midafternoon Wednesday. He said the creek could cause problems in nearby Woodland.

“Lots of high water, dangerously high, needs to be monitored, but it should be coming down,” Haynes said.

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Dale Kasler covers climate change, the environment, economics and the convoluted world of California water. He also covers major enterprise stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. He joined The Bee in 1996 from the Des Moines Register and graduated from Northwestern University.
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