Wed, Jan 04, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Californian wine country cleans up after flooding

VINEYARD DELUGE Serious flooding in the northern part of the state has caused millions of dollars worth of damage and inundated many homes and businesses

AP , GUERNEVILLE, CALIFORNIA

Tyson McClain, right, ferries residents to their homes in Guerneville, California, on Monday. Northern California has been inundated by heavy rain over the past week, causing mudslides and rivers to break their banks.

PHOTO: AFP

Homeowners shoveled away mud and other debris and authorities worked to repair damaged levees after a pair of storms that flooded Northern California's wine country moved south.

The rain let up over the hard-hit region and moved into Central and Southern California, drenching the Rose Parade on Monday for the first time since 1955 and threatening mudslides on hills stripped bare by last summer's wildfires.

State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger toured parts of Napa and declared a state of emergency in seven counties. He pledged to work with state and federal officials to get disaster relief money and to fortify the areas for the next deluge.

"We want to make sure we don't get hit by something like Katrina where you level an entire city," Schwarzenegger told a crowd.

Initial estimates put the damage throughout Northern California at more than US$100 million. The storms were blamed for at least three deaths, all caused by falling trees.

The Russian River at Guerneville was receding on Monday after remaining for hours at 12m -- 2.7m above flood stage -- but officials said it probably wouldn't fall below flood stage until yesterday morning.

Hundreds of homes were flooded in the scenic community, but most of the downtown was spared, Sonoma County spokesman Dan Levin said.

"When it goes down below its banks, that's when the real cleanup begins," he said.

The Marin County town of San Anselmo, north of San Francisco, sustained an estimated US$40 million in damage when a creek inundated downtown under 1.2m of water and coated streets in mud. About 70 businesses and 100 homes were damaged. About two miles west in Fairfax, mudslides nearly wiped out three homes.

Water had also receded below flood stage in the heart of wine country along the Napa River, which rose out of its banks at the town of Napa and inundated several downtown blocks. Napa officials said about 1,200 homes and 250 businesses were flooded, and damage was estimated at nearly US$75 million.

There were no immediate reports of serious damage to wineries. Grapevines are largely dormant this time of year.

The weather had also threatened several levees across the state, including at least two in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where a levee was weakened near Collinsville, forcing about 40 people from their homes. Many residents began returning late on Monday night, according to Paula Toynbee, a sheriff's office spokeswoman.

In Novato, authorities repaired a breach that flooded a rural field.

Elsewhere, rain fell from the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles, drenching the route of the Rose Parade for the first time in a half century.

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