Mon, Jan 07, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Arctic storm hits West Coast of the US

'WALL OF WATER' The storm caused a levee to rupture in Fernley, Nevada, flooding the town and prompting the governor to declare an emergency in Lyon County


Anna Maxwell, left, and Katie Ichikawa run out of a sauna room through the snow to make the best of the winter storm pounding the Sierra Nevada mountains at Sorenson's Resort in Hope Valley, California, on Saturday.


A ruptured levee sent a frigid "wall of water" from a rain-swollen canal into this high desert town, flooding hundreds of homes and forcing the rescue of more than a dozen people by helicopter and boat.

To the west, a dangerous layer of heavy snow covered the Northern California mountains as rain and wind from the third storm in as many days hit the West Coast. The storms have been blamed for at least three deaths and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in California, Oregon and Washington were without power on Saturday.

No injuries were reported in the flood in Fernley, about 50km east of Reno, after a section of the Truckee Canal up to 45m long broke soon after 4am. As many as 3,500 people were temporarily stranded and more than 100 had gathered on Saturday afternoon at a shelter set up at a high school.

Eric Cornett estimated the water was about 0.5m deep and rising fast when he drove away from his home with his wife and three children.

"We saw water coming in the back door and tried to grab as much stuff as possible to save it. The water was rising very quickly and it was scary. The water was freezing. I couldn't even feel my feet," he said.

Lyon County Fire Chief Scott Huntley, one of the first on the scene, described it as a "wall of water about two feet high going down Farm District Road."

"In some places folks had to deal with 8 feet [2.5m] of water," he said. "Firefighters were in chest-deep water making rescues."

Two helicopters aided rescue crews in boats in rescuing at least 18 people.

"Some folks were standing in their driveways and some were on top of their buildings," said Zip Upham, a spokesman for the Navy training facility.

By afternoon, the Truckee River water flowing into the canal was diverted upstream, said Ernie Schank, president of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District. As the water receded, Fernley Mayor Todd Cutler said he had reports of damage to at least 300 to 400 homes.

Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons, who visited the shelter and toured the affected area by helicopter on Saturday, declared the county an emergency area. Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to conduct a damage assessment today.

Avalanche warnings were posted for the backcountry of the central Sierra Nevada and flash flood warnings were in effect for many areas of Southern California, where large swaths of hillsides had been denuded by the fall's wildfires.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared emergencies in three counties hit hard by the storms.

As much as 3m of snow was possible in the Sierra by yesterday. The National Weather Service recorded wind gusts up to 265kph on mountaintops northwest of Lake Tahoe on Friday.

At least three people have died in weather-related accidents in the West of the US since Friday -- one was swept away by flood waters and the other two were killed when they were hit by falling trees or branches.

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