December 31, 2005

Winter storm pounds Northern California

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A wet winter storm pounded
Northern California on Saturday, swelling rivers, setting off
mudslides and prompting calls to evacuate parts of the Napa
Valley wine region.

With more rain on the way, authorities urged residents in
low-lying areas of the Napa Valley area to leave their homes.
Floods and mudslides also caused road closures on most major
highways in Northern California.

The heaviest rain hit the Napa Valley area just north of
San Francisco, where up to 9 inches have fallen in the past 30
hours, officials said.

In St. Helena, the heart of Napa Valley, the Napa River
crested at a record 21.5 feet, about 8 feet (2.4 metres) over
flood levels. The nearby Russian River crested at flood levels
of around 27 feet, officials said.

"Any last-minute preparations to protect property should be
completed," the National Weather Service said in a statement.
"Persons along the Russian and Napa rivers need to head for
higher ground for safety now."

Eric Lamoureux, a spokesman for the state's Office of
Emergency Services, said the lingering storm caused tremendous
flooding in Napa Valley and prompted evacuations along the
Russian River.

The agency has sent out National Guard and other emergency
personnel across the region to help local authorities deal with
flooding and mudslides, he said.

The storm kicked up 15- to 18-foot (4.6- to 5.5-meter)
waves along the coast and triggered a high surf advisory. A
winter storm warning was in effect in the Sierra Nevada
mountains, where heavy snow was expected to cover mountain
passes and make travel difficult.

"Every major highway has had closures for floods or
mudslides in Northern California," Lamoureux said.