Northern California Rains Flood Highways

Torrential rain in Northern California causes rivers to flood and prompts officials to close many highways in the region. Steve Sharpe of the Sonoma County Emergency Operation Center speaks with Debbie Elliott.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

It seems Mother Nature just won't let 2005 go to bed. A powerful winter storm is battering Northern California and another is on the way. Rivers are overflowing their banks and mudslides are pushing people from their homes. The authorities have closed major highways including Interstate 80. Hardest hit are Napa and Sonoma in the popular wine region north of San Francisco.

We have now on the phone Steve Sharpe from the Sonoma County Emergency Operations Center.

Hello, Mr. Sharpe.

Mr. STEVE SHARPE (Sonoma County Emergency Operations Center): Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: How much rain have you had so far and what's the impact been?

Mr. SHARPE: We've had anywhere from five to almost six inches affecting our county in the last 24 hours and we've seen very fast rise in local creeks and streams. We're also particularly concerned about the Russian River area, the lower Russian River area, Guerneville, Monte Rio area where we're predicting a crest in the river of almost 46 feet by tonight at about midnight. That's about 14 feet over flood level. So it's pretty significant and very dangerous.

ELLIOTT: Have you ordered any evacuations?

Mr. SHARPE: No, we haven't ordered. We're strongly encouraging people to get out of the low-lying areas now before river levels rise where they won't be able to and certainly before dark when it'll be very difficult to get people out if we have to go in and get people out.

ELLIOTT: Now how do you get people out if the highways and the major roads are now flooded and closed?

Mr. SHARPE: Well, we have been able to use buses up until about 10:00 this morning and now we're utilizing some high-water vehicles that are picking up people in Guerneville and transporting to Sebastopol. But as you can imagine, you know, that--when the river level gets much higher, particularly at night, it's going to be difficult if not impossible to get people out of there.

ELLIOTT: Did you have any warning of this or is this something that's a bit sudden?

Mr. SHARPE: Oh, we've had heavy rains for several days, and with the help of the local press, this is predicted. I think our alarm is the quick rise in the river levels.

ELLIOTT: Quicker than you anticipated.

Mr. SHARPE: That's right. That's right. We had a lot of rain yesterday and last night particularly.

ELLIOTT: And it sounds like it's not going to let up.

Mr. SHARPE: It doesn't look like--no. I understand that there's another storm on the way that's supposed to hit tomorrow.

ELLIOTT: Steve Sharpe from the Sonoma County Emergency Operations Center, thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. SHARPE: You bet. Bye-bye.

ELLIOTT: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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