Nev. levee ruptures as storms continue to batter the West
FERNLEY, Nev. - A ruptured levee sent a frigid "wall of water" from a rain-swollen canal into this high desert town early yesterday, flooding hundreds of homes and forcing the rescue of more than a dozen people by helicopter and boat.
To the west, a dangerous layer of heavy snow covered the Northern California mountains as rain and wind from the third storm in as many days hit the West Coast.
The storms have been blamed for at least two deaths, and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in California, Oregon, and Washington were without power yesterday.
No injuries were reported in the flood in Fernley, about 30 miles east of Reno, after a section of the Truckee Canal up to 150 feet long broke soon after 4 a.m. As many as 3,500 people were temporarily stranded, and more than 100 had gathered yesterday afternoon at a shelter set up at a high school.
Eric Cornett estimated the water was about 2 feet deep and rising fast when he drove away from his home with his wife and three children.
"We saw water coming in the back door and tried to grab as much stuff as possible to save it. The water was rising very quickly and it was scary. The water was freezing. I couldn't even feel my feet," he said.
Lyon County Fire Chief Scott Huntley, one of the first on the scene, described it as a "wall of water about 2 feet high going down Farm District Road."
"In some places folks had to deal with 8 feet of water," he said. "Firefighters were in chest-deep water making rescues."
By afternoon, the Truckee River water flowing into the canal was diverted upstream, said Ernie Schank, president of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District. Todd Cutler, Fernley's mayor, said he had reports of damage to at least 300 to 400 homes.
One official suggested that burrowing rodents might have contributed to the break in the levee along with the heavy rains, but the cause wasn't clear.
Avalanche warnings were posted for the backcountry of the central Sierra Nevada, and flash flood warnings were in effect for many areas of Southern California, where large swaths of hillsides had been denuded by wildfires.
Remote sensors and ski areas in the high Sierra Nevada had recorded up to 5 feet of snow since Friday morning, and the west side of the Lake Tahoe Basin already had 4 to 5 feet by Friday night, the National Weather Service office in Reno said yesterday.
As much as 9 feet of snow was possible in the Sierra by today.
The Weather Service recorded wind gusts up to 165 miles per hour on mountaintops northwest of Lake Tahoe on Friday.
"If you take the wind gusts, the snowfall, and all of it together, it's definitely one of the biggest storms we've experienced in a number of years," said Weather Service meteorologist Scott McGuire.
As the storm moved east, whiteout conditions and up to 4 feet of snow were forecast in the Colorado mountains. High wind overturned a tractor-trailer rig in Colorado Springs, briefly closing Interstate 25.
East of Los Angeles, a 25-year-old woman died after her pickup was swept into a flood channel. Rescuers found her 36-yearold boyfriend clinging to a tree. Authorities said the couple unwittingly drove onto a flooded road in Chino because someone had removed a barricade.
More than 450,000 homes and businesses from California's Bay Area to the Central Valley were in the dark early yesterday, down from more than 1.6 million the day before. It could be days before all the lights are back on, Pacific Gas & Electric officials said.