LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Heavy rains and flooding along rivers forced the evacuation of thousands of people in a California wine making region and an area of Nevada east of Lake Tahoe on Monday, officials said, with more storms on the way.
Regions of California and Nevada, two states which have suffered from drought for years, were walloped by storms over the past week from a weather system called the "Pineapple Express" that sent moisture streaming from Hawaii.
The storms have knocked out power for more than 570,000 customers of Pacific Gas and Electric in northern and central California since Saturday, but electricity has been restored to almost all of them, said company spokesman Tom Schmitz.
The storms are the latest in a wet winter expected to put a considerable dent in California's years-long drought.
Just north of San Francisco, rains caused the Russian River in Sonoma County to flood early on Monday, the county Sheriff's department said.
That led to the evacuation overnight of more than 3,000 residents in the area of Guerneville, Jonathan Gudel, a spokesman for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said by phone.
In Nevada, residents of about 400 homes in Reno were ordered to evacuate on Monday as rains swelled the Truckee River, which flows through the city, Washoe County health agency spokesman Phil Ulibarri said by phone.
Officials in both California and Nevada said they were still assessing flood damage on Monday.
Over the past week, the storms brought 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 cm) of rain and snow to the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and lesser amounts of precipitation in western Nevada, meteorologist Bob Oravec of the Weather Prediction Center said by phone.
A woman died after she was struck by a falling tree on Saturday in the San Francisco Bay area, with a local fire official saying the weather appears to have caused the tree to topple, according to Bay Area News Group.
Over the weekend, wineries in California's Napa Valley were spared damage from the heavy rain, which is expected to replenish water supplies for the state's wine-making industry after five years of drought, said Patsy McGaughy, a spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Vintners.
"We're actually grateful to see the rain," McGaughy said.
In a sign of the rain's intensity, California officials for the first time in a decade were considering opening floodgates at a weir on the Sacramento River to prevent flooding in areas of Sacramento, Lauren Hersh, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Water Resources, said by phone.
On Sunday, 27 homes were damaged from flooding in Monterey County south of San Francisco when the Carmel River breached its banks, swamping some nearby properties, and rainwater inundated homes in the town of Seaside, Gerry Malais, the county emergency services director, said by phone.
Also this weekend, an ancient giant sequoia tree with a hollowed-out tunnel big enough for cars to drive through was toppled by floods in Calaveras Big Trees State Park just southeast of Sacramento.
The storms weakened early on Monday but were expected to return in full force later in the day and last until Wednesday, Oravec said.
California officials have not yet declared an end to the drought since water still remains relatively scarce in the southern part of the state.
But northern California's Lake Oroville, the principal reservoir for the State Water Project, has 2.25 million acre feet of water, while a year ago it held about 1 million acre feet, Michael Anderson, state climatologist for the California Department of Water Resources, said by phone.
The Labour MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw, said: “Once again the south west has been severely affected by heavy rain. Our infrastructure has been shown to be unequal to the task of keeping things moving and functioning on what are becoming much more regular weather events.
“There have been lots of grandiose promises in recent years following previous severe flooding and the rail line dropping into the sea in Dawlish of investment to tackle this. Very few if any of these promises have so far come to fruition.”
Cllor Stuart Hughes, Devon county council cabinet member for highway management and flood prevention, said major schemes were being undertaken – including on the River Exe near Exeter and in the north Devon village of Braunton, where there was flooding over the weekend.
But he said he hoped the new chancellor, Philip Hammond, would invest more in flood defences. “The problem is that over the last few years we have been hit by austerity cuts. We are really stretched.”
The government has been accused of failing to deliver on promises to fund “natural” flood management schemes, such as planting trees.
A freedom of information request by Friends of the Earth to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) revealed there was no funding earmarked for natural flood management, despite ministers saying they would fund such measures.
Natural flood management schemes aim to slow the movement of water downstream to prevent flooding. This can involve creating water storage such as ponds, planting trees along water courses and restoring rivers to their original meandering path.
Hughes said Devon council had been talking to farmers about how they could help and was encouraging them to grow less maize, which makes the soil and causes water to run off more quickly, and to plant trees.
Among the structures damaged over the weekend was the ancient clapper bridge Tarr Steps on Exmoor. The middle of the bridge, made up of stones weighing up to two tonnes, were washed away.
More than a dozen schools in Devon were closed. The headteacher of Otterton primary in the east of the county, Carron Saunders, said she felt she had to close the school when it was in danger of being cut off. “Only one road is open,” she said: “The other routes in are cut off.”
The flood warnings for Monday and Tuesday included the river Mole, and North Molton and South Molton in Devon.
Staff were clearing up at the Mill on the Mole residential park on Monday. Manager Stephen Antram said eight people were evacuated over the weekend but all were back at home on Monday. “It was quite a mess. We had debris and mud and rubbish all over the place to sort out. The community has been brilliant. People came down to see if they could help.”
— steven morris (@stevenmorris20) November 21, 2016
Owner Mike Vowles said he had been to meetings where officials had discussed ways of trying to do work further upstream to try to stop the River Mole flooding.
Thousands of householders, business people and travellers across south-west Britain suffered disruption after almost a month’s worth of rain fell within hours, raising fresh concerns that not enough is being spent on flood defences and prevention measures.
Homes and businesses were flooded, schools were shut, dozens of roads closed and major rail lines blocked. By Monday evening, rail travellers were being told not to try to travel to the west country.
Conservative and Labour politicians questioned whether enough was being done to make sure infrastructure in the region was robust enough when extreme weather struck.
Among those forced to evacuate was the Devon and Cornwall police commissioner, Alison Hernandez, whose officer in Exeter was flooded.
Though the worst of the deluge is thought to be over, more flooding was expected on Tuesday as rain that had fallen on high ground fed through rivers and streams on to lower, saturated ground.
The Met Office said the wettest place in the UK on Monday was Dunkeswell aerodrome in east Devon, where 50mm of rain fell in 24 hours. In the 48 hours up to 3pm on Monday, a total of 96mm fell on Exeter airport. Only 136mm falls on Devon in the whole of a typical November.
Coming hard on the heels of Storm Angus, which swept across the UK at the weekend, rivers struggled to cope. As darkness fell on Monday evening there were 45 flood warnings – meaning flooding is expected, immediate action required – in place, mainly in Devon, Somerset and Dorset. There were another 146 alerts (flooding is possible, be prepared) across England and Wales.
Devon and Cornwall police attended more than 60 road collisions during the day on Monday. Train lines were blocked between Swindon in Wiltshire and Bristol and Exeter while Bristol Temple Meads station was briefly closed because of flooding.
The rail operator GWR said its services were affected by flooding at seven sites and asked passengers not to even try to travel to Devon or Cornwall.
— steven morris (@stevenmorris20) November 21, 2016
“We last flooded in 2012. There was lot of talk about what to do but I think it was mostly just talk rather than action,” said Vowles. “But the Environment Agency does have a problem. These seem to be very localised events. It’s us today but it could be somewhere else next week and they haven’t got money to sort out every river, every stream in the country. I understand that.”
It was not only Devon that was affected.
Residents in Bristol were shocked as flood water trapped cars in Whitchurch Lane. Office supply manager Lee Gitsham, 43, said: “Parked cars were submerged in water. There were two drivers who tried to get through but got stuck. It was at wing mirror level so it must have been about 2ft-3ft of water.
“I have lived in that area for nearly 10 years. I have never seen it as bad as that. We have had a bit of flooding where the water has covered the pavement but never where it covered car bonnets.”
The Environment Agency and Met Office said the flooding risk could continue into Tuesday but by Wednesday drier weather was expected.
This is our what you should do page, let no one die of ignorance.
A Flood is usually a natural event that can have far reaching effects on people and the environment. Put simply, this is too much water in the 'wrong' place!.
This situation is usually caused by heavy rainfall making waterways overflow their banks, and can happen at any time of the year, not just in the winter, and also the rain may have been many miles away,and a few days ago.
Buzcall.com brings you smart ways to get prepared and to minimize the damage that may be caused to your property and more importantly to you and your family.
Keep yourself updated with the weather forecast all the time
We advise you to ensure your medicine kit and battery operated radio are satisfactory at all times and your grab bag is well prepared
Have the life jackets ready for the children and any other member of your family who cannot swim.
If the water level gets so high that your appliances are soaked you should turn off your electricity until they can dry out.
When the the water gets too high you should move to higher ground if you can do so safely.
Stay away from power lines and electrical wires, never drive through flood waters, also they may cause gas leaks.
We always want your safety first so beware of the animals, especially snakes. Small animals that have been driven out of their homes may seek shelter in yours. Use a pole or stick to poke and turn items over and scare away small animals.
After the damage it is important to clean and disinfect everything that got wet, even if it is dry now, it has been contaminated
Should you need to go into the deep water area because you have important things to attend to we advise you to be careful where you step, use a stick to feel your way. You should wear boots if possible...
When the government advises you to evacuate from your area please do not ignore them and heed the warnings.Prepare your Grab bag for emergency and we recommend you to record and memorize as much as possible important contact numbers.
Fortunately with modern communication systems these dangerous situations can be monitored easily and warnings issued by local government, civil defense, police, local radio and television.
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