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January 4-10, 2006

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News Briefs

Storms Slam North Bay

By Patricia Lynn Henley

A series of severe storms drenched Northern California over the New Year's holiday weekend, causing devastating mud slides in Marin County and extensive flooding in Napa and Sonoma. Statewide, more than 1 million people were without electricity for an extended period. Early estimates to repair the damages caused by the storms start at $50 million, but that figure is expected to go much higher as specific expenses become known.

On Tuesday, Jan. 2, the governor declared an official emergency in seven counties, including Napa and Sonoma, clearing the way for millions of dollars in state aid to help cover the costs of the repair and cleanup of public areas such as damaged roads and bridges. Although Marin County was not on the original list, officials there say they are working with the governor's office and expect to get the official disaster area designation soon.

The first rains hit Thursday, Dec. 30, and continued hard and heavy throughout Friday. Many North Bay residents went to bed relatively dry Friday night and woke up early Saturday, New Year's Eve, to find nearby rivers or streams had invaded their homes. The downpour ceased briefly Saturday afternoon and evening, in time for those outside the flooded areas to revel on New Year's Eve, but that respite was immediately followed by a second storm lashing the area and causing additional problems on Sunday.

During the four-day period ending Monday, Jan. 2, a total of 7.15 inches of rain poured down on Santa Rosa; 10.71 inches in Kentfield in Marin County; 6.94 inches in San Rafael; and 6.27 in Napa. According to the National Weather Service, as of Jan. 2, rain had fallen in the San Francisco Bay Area on 15 out of the previous 17 days.

In all, Santa Rosa got 17.54 inches of rain in December, 390 percent more than its normal of 4.5 inches; Kentfield was flooded with 28.55 inches last month, 392 percent over its usual 7.29; San Rafael recorded 19.14 inches in December, 360 percent of its normal 5.32 inches; and Napa was hit with 14.49 inches, 373 percent of its usual 3.88 inches.

More rains are predicted, but they should be mild compared to what North Bay residents recently went through, says Bob Benjamin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service's Bay Area office in Monterey. The North Bay will catch only the southern periphery of a front moving through Oregon. Rains will be light to locally moderate for brief periods of time, which may make existing floodwaters recede more slowly but shouldn't increase the accumulated water.

"These should be more of nuisance rains than really problematic rains," Benjamin says. "We're continuing to monitor the situation, of course. These [new showers] may make things uncomfortable for some folks, but they should not cause the return of the dramatic conditions which we experienced earlier."

Both the Russian and Napa rivers overflowed their banks, flooding nearby homes and businesses and forcing many into shelters, hotel rooms or friends' homes. Numerous creeks and streams did the same throughout the region, causing less extensive but still devastating damage. Two levees broke in Novato, and there were mudslides in several parts of Marin County. Several Marin schools are closed for this week in order to dry out. San Anselmo held an emergency town meeting Tuesday night, and the Fairfax Town Council was expected to discuss storm-related problems on Wednesday.

Although the grounds were flooded at the COPIA wine and cultural center in Napa, no water entered the buildings and no permanent damage was done.

"We were unscathed," says spokeswoman Kathleen Iudice. "[However], we suffered along with all the other businesses in the area that had to close. We were surrounded by flooding because we're right next to the river. The water came over the terrace and came up to about three feet in the concert terrace area, which is the outdoor seating garden."

The storms washed out or crumbled roads and highways throughout the North Bay. Details about specific highway conditions are online at; Sonoma County has a series of road updates posted at Napa residents and businesses who need help with cleanup efforts, or those who want to help, should contact the Volunteer Center at 707.252.6222.

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