Heavy Rains Trigger Evacuations in Parts of California and Nevada

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Heavy rains in parts of California forced officials on Monday to consider opening a floodgate for the first time in a decade to protect the state capital Sacramento, after the downpour triggered evacuations in the state and neighboring Nevada, authorities said.

Regions of California and Nevada, two states which have suffered from drought for years, were walloped by storms over the past week from a weather system called the “Pineapple Express” that sent moisture streaming from Hawaii.

In a sign of the rain’s intensity, California officials were considering opening floodgates at a weir on the Sacramento River for the first time in a decade to prevent flooding in areas of Sacramento, Lauren Hersh, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Water Resources, said by phone.

If that happens, it could cause flooding in a low-lying area called the Yolo Bypass, which has prompted authorities to warn farmers to move livestock from the bypass. But Hersh said a final determination on whether to open the weir will not be made until Monday afternoon.

Just north of San Francisco, rains caused the Russian River in Sonoma County to flood early on Monday, the county Sheriff’s Office said.

That led to the evacuation overnight of more than 3,000 residents in the area of Guerneville, Jonathan Gudel, a spokesman for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said by phone.

Authorities were seeking to determine whether the deaths of three people in the San Francisco Bay Area were related to the storms, according to the Los Angeles Times. One person was killed by a falling tree and two others died in car accidents, the paper reported.

This weekend, an ancient giant sequoia tree with a hollowed-out tunnel big enough for cars to drive through was toppled by floods in Calaveras Big Trees State Park just southeast of Sacramento.

In Nevada, heavy rains led officials to evacuate more than 400 homes in Washoe County in the northern part of the state by Monday morning after the Truckee River reached high levels, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The rains caused road closures in Lockwood, a town about 10 miles (16 km) east of Reno along the Truckee River, Storey County officials said on Twitter.

The Nevada National Guard said on Twitter it had deployed several high water vehicles, which can travel along flooded roads, to assist people in Lockwood.

Over the past week, the storms brought 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 cm) of rain and snow to the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and lesser amounts of precipitation in western Nevada, meteorologist Bob Oravec of the Weather Prediction Center said by phone.

The storms weakened early on Monday but were expected to return in full force later in the day and last until Wednesday, he said.

In an encouraging sign, the U.S. Forest Service said the rain had restored moisture levels in Southern California vegetation to a seasonal normal for the first time in five years.

SOURCE: Reuters, Alex Dobuzinskis