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Flooding in Wake of Torrential Calif. Storms

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Flooding in Wake of Torrential Calif. Storms

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Flooding in Wake of Torrential Calif. Storms

Flooding in Wake of Torrential Calif. Storms

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Northern California continues to get hammered by torrential rains, causing some of the worst flooding in nearly a generation. Debbie Elliot talks with Neil O'Haire, emergency services manager for Napa County, and with Dan Weinstein, a resident of the town of Guerneville where some of the worst flooding has occurred.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Northern Californians are facing another day of heavy rains, swollen rivers and flooded streets and basements. The new year brings new storms to counties that prefer to be known for wine rather than water, muddy water: the counties of Sonoma, Napa and Marin. We have on the line now Neil O'Haire, the emergency services manager for Napa County.

Welcome.

Mr. NEIL O'HAIRE (Emergency Services Manager, Napa County): Well, thank you.

ELLIOTT: So how have the rains affected people in your county so far?

Mr. O'HAIRE: Well, yesterday was a very busy day. We had about 1,400 families affected. We moved them out of harm's way pretty effectively. Most of them have been able to go back to their homes overnight and this morning to start working on cleaning them up. But we still have a lot of water around, so we still don't know how bad the damage will be.

ELLIOTT: Can you give me an idea of the structural damage, what you've been able to determine so far?

Mr. O'HAIRE: Well, we know we lost one of our state highways out of Napa to a major slide. We are going to have significant road and levee damage. The vineyards are flooded. Our PG&E substation was severely threatened yesterday. Our fairgrounds had five feet of water in it. Those are some of the highlights, or low lights, however you want to look at it.

ELLIOTT: So what are you concerned about now moving ahead?

Mr. O'HAIRE: The flood-contaminated debris is going to be a major problem. Rugs and carpeting and drapes and things like that in the household--once they get saturated by floodwaters, they're really not recoverable, and we're going to be dealing with getting rid of that stuff safely for people.

ELLIOTT: How does this compare when you look at your county and its experience with these kinds of winter storms?

Mr. O'HAIRE: I'm a Napa native and lived here all my life. This is as big as I've seen it since 1986. 1986 was one of those 50-year events that you hear about in flood literature that are only supposed to happen once in every 50 years, and we were just a hair below the record levels on the Napa River from the 1986 storms.

And the other thing to remind your listeners of is this is really early in the winter. This is just New Year's Day, and we've got a lot of winter ahead of us. And we could be back under these same type of conditions with this level of soil saturation and all our reservoirs full. Another big storm could put us right back into a flood fight.

ELLIOTT: Neil O'Haire is the emergency services manager for Napa County, California.

Thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. O'HAIRE: Thank you.

ELLIOTT: We turn now to Dan Weinstein, who lives in soaked Guerneville, California, in Sonoma County. His home is along the swollen Russian River.

Hello, sir.

Mr. DAN WEINSTEIN (Sonoma County Resident): Hello.

ELLIOTT: So how are things at your place? Any damage from the flooding?

Mr. WEINSTEIN: Not at our home. We've got about a foot of water in the driveway, and right down below the driveway is a Pee Wee Golf, and there's 12 feet of water. It covers the first floor of their buildings. You're just seeing the top two to three feet. The only thing sticking out is this purple dinosaur's head, and his chin is touching the water.

ELLIOTT: You seem to be getting by pretty well, but it must be pretty bad for some others.

Mr. WEINSTEIN: People that live on Neely Road--we understand the power's been out for a couple of days. So, you know, it's pretty rough for them if they don't have a generator there. They're stuck on that side.

ELLIOTT: Now I understand you and your wife didn't let the storm dampen your New Year's celebration last night.

Mr. WEINSTEIN: Well, you know, in times like these, your neighbors pull together and you get to see people. And so we were standing looking at the water, wondering what to do, so we put up the canopy and a couple of bottles of wine and a tables and some chairs and went down to the water's edge and rung in the new year.

ELLIOTT: Dan Weinstein lives in Guerneville, California.

Thanks for speaking with us.

Mr. WEINSTEIN: Thank you.

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