FORT BRAGG, Calif. — Several communities near California’s Monterey Peninsula were told to leave their homes Wednesday after authorities warned that a river swollen by a series of strong storms is expected to overflow its banks, possibly turning the area into an island. .
Monterey County Sheriff Tina Nieto compared the expected flooding of the Salinas River to the 1995 flood, when heavy rains devastated the area and people stranded on both sides of the flooded waterway.
“We anticipate that we are going to get into a similar situation, but not as bad,” he told reporters. “We are asking people to prepare for this.”
The flooding is expected to begin Thursday at noon and last through Friday, though residents may not be able to return for days depending on the severity of the event, he said. Towns and hamlets between Chualar, on Highway 101, and the Pacific Ocean were placed under evacuation orders Wednesday.
Tens of thousands more people were under evacuation warnings on the Salinas River, which state officials warned was one of five waterways around California expected to exceed flood level in the coming days.
The orders and warnings came like weathermen warned that there was more torrential rain for Friday and the state death toll from an avalanche of atmospheric rivers rose to 18, a spokesman for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that a driver was killed when his car plunged into floodwaters in Forestville, 65 miles north of San Francisco.
The woman, identified as 43-year-old Daphne Fontino, called 911 Tuesday and reported that there was water in her car before the line was disconnected, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. Efforts to locate her again failed and authorities called off the search when conditions worsened, the sheriff’s office said.
A search team returned to the area Wednesday morning and found her car 100 yards from the road, the sheriff’s office said. He was submerged in 8 to 10 feet of water.
«The Sheriff’s Office sends our condolences to the victim’s family and friends during this difficult time,» the statement said.
More rain forecast
The coming storms show little sign of abating. Wednesday’s heaviest rain, the seventh of nine atmospheric rivers forecast to affect the state through January 18, was expected to fall in the northern and coastal regions of the state.
As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, more than 2 inches had fallen on the Sonoma County community of Venado over 24 hours, according to the California Nevada River Forecast Center. San Francisco logged almost 1 inch.
More than 4 million people were under a flood watch and 400,000 more were under a flood watch Wednesday night, mostly in Northern California, according to the National Metereological Service.
Rainfall totals for the past week were 1 to 15 inches across the state, though some communities received significantly more, state climatologist Michael Anderson told reporters Wednesday.
“In Santa Barbara in one day they had 15 inches,” he said.
In Santa Cruz County, the storms have dumped 23 inches of rain over the past 10 days, damaging 130 homes and destroying eight, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said.
«Just a devastating series of storms where our low-lying coastal areas are covered in debris.» Hart said on MSNBC «Chris Jansing Reports».
«It’s a disaster. I’ve been here 35 years. [and] experienced fires, floods, earthquakes, a couple of tsunamis, and this is one of the most serious natural disasters I’ve seen in this county.»
Across the state, there have been 955 reports of flash floods, inundations and mudslides since the storms began arriving late last month. according to the National Weather Service.
missing child search
Rescuers in San Luis Obispo County resumed his search Wednesday for 5-year-old Kyle Doan, who was swept away by fast-moving water Monday.
The team was aided by members of the National Guard who arrived Wednesday afternoon, the first wave of more than 100 soldiers expected to assist in the search, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said.
The hours of waiting and uncertainty had taken an emotional toll on the family, his father said.
«It’s hard to process,» Brian Doan said Wednesday. “My wife is getting better, but as things have turned out, she is struggling. We all are.»
lindsy Doan was driving Kyle to kindergarten Monday when his car hit a flooded pothole in the road.
“Then when I got into the trough, I realized I had made a mistake because it was full at the bottom and my car started skidding and it slid and crashed into two trees.” Doan told NBC Los Angeles.
After their car came to a stop, Lindsy Doan wanted Kyle to get out the driver’s side door, and that’s when the waters took him away.
“He came towards me, and the currents were so strong that when I tried to take his hand [with] my hand wrapped around the tree and then the current carried it away from me,” he said.
«Kyle was drifting down the river, and I could see his head bobbing on top of the river.»
The luckiest Californians were able to venture outside Wednesday for the first time in days to survey the damage and clean up downed trees.
Impact on drought
Heavy rains may hold a silver lining: After years of drought, Anderson, the state climatologist, said Wednesday that the series of atmospheric rivers flooding California had provided «impressive» gains in reservoir storage.
Some of the smaller reservoirs in the state were reaching capacity, while the two largest, Lake Oroville and Lake Shasta, had significant increases in water levels, he said.
“The good news is that they are off all-time lows,” he said. «The challenge is that they still have a lot of recovery to do before going back to normal operating conditions.»
Snowpack in the Sierra, which provides just under a third of the state’s water supply, has also seen significant gains, Anderson said. By Wednesday, a season’s worth of snow had fallen, she said.
A large system is forecast to affect nearly the entire California coast, from the Oregon border to Los Angeles, on Friday afternoon or evening. Forecasts show California could receive 1 to 2 inches of rain around Los Angeles and 3 to 6 inches across much of the rest of the state, including Santa Cruz County.
“We just don’t know where the next debris flow or mudslide is going to happen,” the sheriff said. «But we have people in position in different communities to help. So we’re ready. We’ll take on whatever comes our way.»