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January 11-17, 2006

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News Briefs

By Patricia Lynn Henley

Costs Rising

Estimates are soaring for recent storm damages. California has declared a formal disaster in 23 counties, including Marin, Napa and Sonoma. Federal recognition is needed next to allow FEMA assistance. Federal reps are onsite preparing a report, and a decision is expected within a week. Marin County's preliminary damage tally is $108 million. Local, state and FEMA officials are creating a more detailed assessment, which will raise that number, says Marin spokesman Matt Bronson. "The extent of the impact was pretty significant countywide. Right now, we're looking at roughly 400 private properties that have suffered major damage." Two county roads remain closed. In Sonoma County, the tally is close to $104 million and counting. Caltrans is hustling to control hillside mudslides along Highway 101 south of Cotati and to evaluate Highway 128 near Geyserville where a bridge dropped a foot and is off-center by six inches, says Sonoma spokeswoman Sandy Covall-Alves. For updated highway info, call 1.800.427.ROAD. In Napa County, the current estimate is $135 million, and "that's very preliminary," says Napa spokeswoman Mary Jean McLaughlin. "We expect it to go up." Road crews are working on a number of streets, and private landowners are trying to get wayward creeks back into normal channels. Road repair details are available by calling 707.944.0196. "We hope citizens obey all traffic and safety rules and don't drive through any barriers, and be prepared for storms when they come again," McLaughlin says. "So far we're good, but it's just the beginning of the rainy season."

Fire, Too

Three interns at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland witnessed a blazing fire amid the storm. The sound of rushing water awoke the three residents around 3:30am on Dec. 31, prompting them to scramble to higher ground. The flood shifted a geodesic dome off its foundation, breaking a propane gas line. The dome burst into flames while water blanketed the area. The three interns were unharmed and evacuated by boat that afternoon. The storm devastated the nonprofit institute, "tossing full shipping containers around like dice cubes," says programs director Doron Amiran. The organization, which hosts the popular SolFest event, needs $150,000 for repairs. "We'll clean up and rebuild, and SolFest is definitely on for August," Amiran says. "Nothing has changed and everything has changed." To contact the Solar Living Institute, write PO Box 836, 13771 S. Hwy. 101, Hopland, CA 95449 or 707.774.2017. The institute's online presence remains high and dry at

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