Weeks of Heavy Rain Soak Northern California

Northern California is getting pummeled by record rainfall, and emergency crews are dealing with mudslides, flooding and a grave threat to levees that protect the state's agricultural heartland from floodwaters.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

It's Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Northern California is in the grips of one of the wettest years ever. Record rainfall there has caused all kinds of problems, from delays in the local strawberry crop to flooding and mudslides.

And NPR's Richard Gonzales says residents are starting to wonder if they'll ever see the sun again.

RICHARD GONZALES reporting:

First, the good news from The National Weather Service:

Unidentified Man (National Weather Service): For Thursday night, mostly cloudy, chance of rain.

GONZALES: That's right, a chance of rain. That's better than what we've been getting thus far, since it's rained nearly every day in April. That's after the fifth wettest winter on record.

And April is a month when contractors such as Martin Coyle in Oakland expected to get his crews back to work.

Mr. MARTIN COYLE (Contractor): Trying to do some trim on the outside of the building and we're also trying to build some fences up in the hills, and you dig a hole and it fills with water the next day and you've got to bail it out. So it's just not working.

GONZALES: The bad news is that even if Mother Nature spared us another drop, it will take at least a week of sunny skies to mitigate the danger of mudslides.

Anxious owners of innumerable hillside homes are praying they won't suffer the same fate as 73-year-old Walter Guthrie of Mill Valley. He's buried in the mudslide that hit his home early Wednesday morning.

Mr. GREG MOORE (Battalion Chief, Mill Valley Fire Department): It's about 30 yards wide by 12 to 15 feet deep, and it probably goes up another 30 to 40 yards up the drainage.

GONZALES: Greg Moore is the battalion chief of the Mill Valley Fire Department. He had a crew of 80 digging through the mound of mud by hand, because the slope wasn't accessible by large machines.

MOORE: Many times, people have been caught in avalanches or landslides and live for a couple days. You know, it's cold, it's wet out here. There are places there could be air pockets, so it's still a rescue operation.

GONZALES: But a few hours later, the rescue was called off and workers shifted their attention to recovering Walter Guthrie's body.

Further south, authorities are monitoring the swollen San Joaquin River, where there is concern about possible breaks in a network of levees. And in the Sierra, snow is falling, making travel hazardous.

But the bigger danger may come later this year, authorities say, when the heavy snow melts, producing another round of flooding. Forecasters say the sun will return but probably not until next week.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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