January 2, 2006

Northern California cleans up as storms move south

By Michael Kahn

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Residents in California's wine
country began cleaning up on Monday as flooded rivers receded
and officials reopened roads after two powerful storms caused
an estimated tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Days of heavy storms over the weekend swelled rivers and
caused flooding, mudslides and evacuations across Northern
California including the heart of the state's famed wine region
in Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

Rain continued to fall in the area on Monday but
forecasters said the storms were easing and moving down to
Southern California where officials issued flash flood and
mudslide warnings in areas torched by recent wildfires.

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger planned to tour
flood-damaged areas in Napa later on Monday and he declared a
state of emergency in seven Northern California counties hit by
the storms.

Winemakers in Napa Valley, however, escaped damage because
vines are dormant this time of the year and growers plant cover
crops to hold the soil during the off season, said Terry Hall,
a spokesman for trade group Napa Valley Vintners.

He also noted it was not uncommon for floods to cover
vineyards during the rainy season in a region that makes up a
large chunk of the state's $15 billion wine industry.

"The grape vines are really completely shut down and there
is no growth going on," Hall said. "They can sit under water."

Water levels dropped in the Napa River at Napa where
officials said the costs from the storms could reach $50
million and that some 600 homes and 150 businesses suffered

But many houses, roads and businesses along the Russian
River at the large resort town of Guerneville remained flooded,
and that area was forecast to remain inundated through Tuesday,
the National Weather Service said.

"Significant flooding will continue throughout the lower
portions of the Russian River," it said in a statement. "Many
roads will continue to be flooded making travel difficult near
the Russian River."

In hard-hit San Anselmo, just north of San Francisco,
police Cmdr. Jim Providenza said the flood that swept through
the small city was the worst since 1982. It caused an estimated
$25 million to $30 million in property damage, he said.

Authorities were now allowing business owners back into the
soaked business district built along a creek that overflowed
but were blocking access for the general public during the
clean up, he said.

"We are into clean up and recovery although it is still
raining," Providenza said. "We thought we were going to have a
break in the weather.

The wet weather also made for a soggy Rose Parade in
Pasadena in suburban Los Angeles, where it rained at the annual
event for the first time since 1955. Spectators wore rain
jackets and many covered themselves with sheets of plastic as
floats and marching bands passed by.

Forecasters were predicting heavy thunderstorms with wind
gusts of up to 50 mph possible stirring up rough surf and ocean
swells along the coast.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Los Angeles)