January 9, 1997 in Nation/World

Californians Continue Battling Floodwaters Miles Of Levees Threatened; Damage Estimates Skyrocket

Associated Press
 

His office was half-submerged. His bar became a literal watering hole. Even his houseboat was inaccessible because of the flooded San Joaquin River.

But despite a mandatory evacuation Wednesday, Tony Radford didn’t budge.

He refused to leave the riverside bar he’s owned for 20 years near this town an hour’s drive east of San Francisco.

“I have no reason to go,” Radford said. “I don’t think there will be any more damage than this.”

A nearby levee broke Tuesday, flooding more than 25 square miles and damaging 400 homes.

Although skies remained clear Wednesday, reservoir runoff poured into already swollen rivers and threatened eroding levees in central and Northern California.

Unlike Radford, a father and daughter who live next door to his bar were forced to move their mobile home Wednesday, the second time in a week.

“It’s been horrible, depressing and stressful,” said Monica Cole, a 19-year-old waitress who sat in the bar. “We’re both missing work. But what can you do? You want to make sure you have a home to come back to.”

While many homeowners stuck near televisions and radios, crews of residents used sandbags and plastic sheets to bolster key sections of Northern California’s 6,000-mile network of levees.

With at least three reservoirs nearing capacity, the danger of flooding is far from over as runoff from rain and melting snow continues to increase.

“Physically, you can’t get the water down fast enough,” said Jeff Cohen, a state Water Resources Department spokesman who was commenting on the effort to drain the reservoirs. “It’s going to be like shifting freight cars in a crowded rail yard.”

This could be the most expensive flood in California history. Emergency workers have estimated damage at more than $1.6 billion with only 19 counties and one city reporting. Forty-two of California’s 58 counties have been declared disaster areas.

At least 29 deaths have been blamed on a series of storms that battered the West Coast from late December into the new year. In addition, two women are missing in California’s Yuba County. Thousands of homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed.

A special session of the California Legislature will begin Monday to deal with the flooding.

Meanwhile, residents of California’s Central Valley continued to pack up cars and trucks and farmers moved their livestock, tractors and other equipment to higher ground.

“We never expected this day to come,” said Kim Widmer, 36, as she held her 1-year-old son, Lucas.

She and her family live on an 800-acre alfalfa and hay farm near Lathrop and could lose the crop if a nearby levee breaks.

“That’s pretty devastating to think that you could lose a year’s worth of your livelihood,” she said.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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