California community becomes island as rain-swollen river floods

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Rising flood waters turned the Northern California community of Guerneville into an island on Wednesday after authorities ordered thousands of residents to get out or risk being stranded for days.

Water rose to the roofs of homes and submerged cars as the rain-swollen Russian River overflowed its banks, forcing authorities in Sonoma County, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of San Francisco, to evacuate 3,600 people, local authorities reported.

The river had risen to over 43 feet (13 meters) by Wednesday afternoon, well over flood stage, and was set to crest at 46 feet (14 meters) by 9 p.m, Sonoma County said in a statement.

“Guerneville is land-locked,” the office of Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said on Twitter. “You cannot get into or out of town. All roads leading to the community are flooded.”

The evacuation orders affect about two dozen communities stretching dozens of miles along the river, including Guerneville, with a population of more than 4,500.

“We hope everyone has evacuated, the roads are closing quickly,” Sonoma’s sheriff said on the department’s Facebook page, showing a video here of brown, muddy water rising above a road and flooding homes.

Residents got around flooded towns in kayaks. A California Highway Patrol helicopter landed on a dry section of street in Guerneville to evacuate a woman with a serious medical issue, the sheriff’s office reported.

Two boats were deployed on the river to help with the evacuation, Essick said.

The Russian River reached flood stage after three days of heavy rains, with melting snow from the mountains also playing a role, Sonoma County director of emergency management Christopher Godley said at the news conference.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Susan Thomas and Leslie Adler

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