Watch CBS News

Flood Fears: Mass Evacuation Order Issued For Towns Along Russian River

GUERNEVILLE (CBS SF) – Sonoma County officials ordered the residents from more than two dozens communities located along the rain-swollen Russian River Tuesday to immediately evacuate their homes and find safety on higher ground.

UPDATE 2/27: Flooded Russian River Keeps Rising After Torrential Rains; Guerneville Isolated

Thousands of residents were covered by the order that covered 25 communities including Guerneville, Jenner, Monte Rio and Rio Dell. Evacuation centers were set up at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts and the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.

Here are the communities covered by the order:

  • Asti
  • Bailhache
  • Chianti
  • Guerneville
  • Guernewood
  • Guernewood Park
  • Hacienda
  • Jenner
  • Jimtown
  • Korbel
  • Lytton
  • Northwood
  • Northwood Lodge
  • Rio Dell
  • Rolands
  • Sheridan
  • Duncans Mills
  • El Bonita
  • Mirabel Heights
  • Mirabel Park
  • Monte Rio
  • Montesano
  • Summerhome Park
  • Vacation Beach
  • Wilson Grove

"We want you to leave now," urged Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick. Sheriff's deputies are able to help with 25 extra deputies available as well as one lieutenant and one sergeant, Essick said.
The sheriff's office has also deployed two boats to help people evacuate.

The Russian River at Guerneville reached flood stage of 32 feet at around 5:40 p.m. Tuesday, over an hour earlier than expected. The river is expected to crest at just over 46 feet Wednesday night, 14 feet above flood stage.

According to KPIX 5 chief meteorologist Paul Deanno, it would be the sixth highest crest on record in Guerneville and the highest the river has been since 1997.

With no signs of the rain letting up, Guerneville residents took head of the evacuation warning and started packing up to head to higher ground.

Given the projected flood levels, main streets in Guerneville were expected to be submerged under a foot of water by 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Dee Dee Rydberg owns Guernville Graphics and Printing. She and her staff were working quickly to remove computers and printers vital to her business.

"We're getting ready for the flooding. My threshold is 43 feet," said Rydberg. "Flood insurance raised 800 percent throughout the area. I could not afford to buy flood insurance. So I'm packing up my stuff and getting out."

Retired fire chief and Forestville resident Pedro Chavez was getting the Russian River Pub's back-up generator ready for the flood.

"I was in Guerneville watching everybody run for their lives," said Chavez. When told that the flooding could be the worst that the area has seen in over two decades, he said, "Let's just hope that doesn't really happen. That's not good for all the people who live out here. There's going to be a lot of sad people here, I know that."

Wendy Gause, who works at the pub, says it is located in a 100-year flood zone. Its surrounding neighbors could be under water.

"We actually could become an island," said Gause. "We also stockpile up on water, because we lose our water supply. We become a boil only situation if the well goes under."

An area resident who only gave her name as Sasha told KPIX she was trying to save her aunt's truck before the Russian river swallowed it up.

"We've got the tow truck here and are just trying to get it out so we can get out of here," explained Sasha.

There are also concerns about downed power lines and falling tress in region as strong winds kick up during the atmospheric river.

The good thing is that these businesses know how to evacuate and they also know how to get back up and running when the storm moves out.

"We will come in and rip everything back out and it'll take another week to put it back together, but that's how the river rolls," said Rydberg.

Earlier, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office warned residents along the lower Russian River to be prepared to move.

RELATED: Flood Stages Of The Russian River And What Floods At Each Stage

"We're preparing for evacuations," said Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Crum told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. "We're suggesting people get to higher ground and prepare to be isolated for some time. They won't be able to make it out of the Guerneville area."

The people who live at River Bend RV Camp didn't have time to stop and talk Tuesday morning. That was how quickly the situation became dangerous in the town of Forestville, a short distance south of Guerneville.

Long-time Guerneville resident Matt Kenny was loading up 20 sandbags to keep his home safe. This was before an emergency alert for all residents near the Russian River to evacuate immediately was issued.

"You know, it looks like it's coming up pretty high this time, so I'm trying to get something in front of my garage door," said Kenny.

Slusser Road in Santa Rosa -- an access road to the Charles M. Schulz Airport -- looked more like a river than a roadway.

"We're definitely in high concern mode," Crum said. "We're bringing our boats out here and we're letting the public know to take this one serious."

At the River Inn Grill in Guerneville, workers were preparing by putting perishables on high shelves in storage rooms. But manager Andre Vazquez said the one-storey building could be largely submerged that if the river reaches 46 feet.

"If it gets to 46 feet, it's done. There is no way to prepare for that," Vazquez said.

The town often floods during heavy rain and people seemed nonchalant Tuesday about the threat, said Joseph Chung, whose parents own the Koala's Fine Food restaurant.

"A couple of weeks ago people were using kayaks to get to their mailbox," Chung said. "If it gets really bad, we'll get out."

Earlier in Santa Rosa at around 7:30 a.m., fire crews had to rescue a car that got stuck on the water on Todd Road, one of many instances where drivers had to be saved.

"[They were in] about 3-4 feet of water. We requested a boat to come out and assist with extracting the victim from the vehicle," said Goldridge Fire District Battalion Chief Darren DeCarli. "We've had multiple calls in the area, between Grayton and Forestville, with vehicles in the water."

DeCarli explained just how strong the water's current can be.

"So the force of the water and the depth of the water is definitely concerning as one of those things," said DeCarli. "If you see water across the road, please turn around and head the other way."

Meanwhile, forecasters also project the Napa River could rise above flood stage by late Tuesday night.

The National Weather Service has extended a flood warning for all of Sonoma County through 5 p.m. Tuesday, while a flood adivsory was in effect for Marin and Napa counties.

In Marin County, San Anselmo Creek has risen several feet, but was still well below what was seen during major flooding in 2005. Nonetheless, it was enough to make for locals to be concerned.

The Ranch Salon overlooks San Anselmo Creek, a location that's proven hazardous with its history of overflowing its banks.

"We might get close and there's more water coming from the mountains, so it's going to be an interesting day," said Ranch Salon owner, Andreas Ade.

Sandbags are sitting outside of most downtown businesses, while others have installed flood gates in case it gets worse.

The flooding in parts of Marin County started before dawn. Inundating the usual low-lying spots and causing a rough commute along Highway 101. In Sausalito where people evacuated because of a mud slide last week, residents were still waiting for word on when they might be able to return home. But the rain is causing concern that more of the hillside may come down. The plan is to possibly install barriers later Tuesday.

Creeks in West Marin were overflowing and flooding several locations.

The Marin County Sheriff's office warned people to stay home if possible. The county says West Marin has received more than five inches of rain in the past 24 hours.

Officials said the Nicasio Reservoir is spilling into spillways, causing roadway closures. The storm is also causing flooding on all access roads into Point Reyes National Seashore.

One driver got stuck. Park rangers are urging people to steer clear and said all visitor centers will be closed Tuesday.

Much of the rain in this latest storm has been concentrated north of San Francisco. As of 10 a.m., more than 10 inches of rain fell in the community of Venado over a 48 hour span. In that same time frame, 7.18 inches fell in the community of Woodacre, 4.7 inches has fallen on Mount Tamalpais and 3.97 inches has fallen in Santa Rosa.

By afternoon, Venado has received more than a foot of rain by this storm alone.

Meanwhile, San Francisco and locations further south have received much less rain. San Jose, about 100 miles south of Venado, had yet to record rainfall from the storm as of Tuesday afternoon.

At least four school districts in Sonoma County have also closed for the day, due to flooding on bus routes.

Flooding isn't the only concern. Sonoma County opened its emergency operation center at 8 a.m. It is in anticipation of any storm related damage, including potential mudslides in the burn scar from the 2017 Wine Country wildfires.

Rain, heavy at times is expected to continue in the North Bay through the evening, before shifting southward. On Wednesday, the Bay Area should expect scattered showers, with isolated thunderstorms and hail possible.

Strong winds are expected to continue, raising the potential for downed trees and power outages. The weather service has extended a wind advisory for the Diablo Range, East Bay Hills, Santa Cruz Mountains and North Bay mountains through 3 a.m. Wednesday.

© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.