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California residents survey damage as historic floods recede

Published
John Buergler of the Sonoma County Sheriff's marine unit patrols Neely Road in Guerneville, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 as the Russian River recedes, but continues to flood. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

GUERNEVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Tom Orr began moving lyrics and scripts, clothes and photo albums from his apartment as authorities ordered evacuations along a rising Northern California river threatening to hit a historic crest.

But the actor and writer couldn't move costumes, computers and performance videos. So he shifted those to his loft bed about 10 feet up and prayed they would survive. On Wednesday, television news footage showed muddy brown water nearly swallowing his ground-level unit and much of the tiny town of Guerneville, part of Sonoma County's famed wine country and a popular tourist destination.

Residents awoke Thursday to sunshine and began assessing the damage while the water started receding. Orr, 48, was among those still unable to get into his house after the rain-swollen Russian River reached nearly 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, its highest level in more than 20 years.

"I feel so helpless just sitting here and waiting before I can go back and start salvaging whatever I can," Orr said in text messages to The Associated Press before preparing for a friend to take him by canoe to work at the Main Street Bistro, one of the few places in town that did not flood.

Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday.

One National Weather Service station measured 20 inches of rain in 48 hours.

While no flood-related serious injuries or deaths were reported in Sonoma County, a man about 150 miles (330 kilometers) to the north in Ferndale died trying to reach three children.

The unidentified man was trying to walk from a barn to his home through up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water Wednesday evening when he was carried away by the fast-moving current, said Samantha Karges, a spokeswoman with the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office.

Two adults and a child tried to rescue the man, but their tractor stalled in the water. Deputies in a boat then rescued them and the three children from the home, Karges said.

The missing man's body was found Thursday morning. He was the father of a 12-year-old trapped in the home with two children under 4, Karges said. She was not sure if all three children were related. The low-lying rural area about 215 miles (473 kilometers) north of San Francisco is home to many dairy farms and flooded when the Eel River went over its banks.

In Sonoma County, Guerneville and Monte Rio remained cut off by floodwaters that swamped the communities. Water was chest-high in some places, several feet in others.

In downtown Guerneville, some residents stood on the roofs of their flooded two-story houses, watching neighbors and others paddling kayaks, canoes and rowboats down watery streets. Oversized National Guard truck occasionally sloshed by.

Drone video showed a sign reading "Monte Rio awaits your return" hanging over muddy water that hid any trace of the road beneath.

In Sonoma County, Sheriff Mark Essick said Thursday that three women had to be rescued. Two were on a boat without paddles, and one was rescued from a tree after driving her car into floodwaters, he said.

About 2,000 homes, businesses and other structures were flooded by water up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) deep. About 3,500 people were under evacuation orders.

In addition, two wastewater treatment plants were not working, leading to concerns about sewage spills, said Briana Khan, a Sonoma County spokeswoman.

Guerneville, a town of 4,500, is a former logging community now popular with day-tripping tourists, including gays and lesbians who flock to the town's resorts and fine restaurants. Throughout the storm, residents with canoes and kayaks gave rides to neighbors and documented the rising water with photos posted to social media.

Locals are accustomed to the Russian River flooding in rainy weather, but not like this.

In Monte Rio, 28-year-old Michael Super watched helplessly as water seeped in from five different entry points, including doors and walls. He grabbed the cat and dog and found higher ground.

He said the landlord has insurance, but the silt and dirty water are a mess to clean.

"A lot of the furniture will have to go into the dump," he said. "We've seen oil and gas sheens and alcohol bottles so the water is unsafe."

Orr moved to Guerneville about five years ago, driven out of San Francisco by rising costs. He helped create a dinner theater show at a local restaurant. It didn't work out, but he stayed on, unable to move back to the city.

He started moving items out of his house Tuesday afternoon, humming a version of "My Funny Valentine" called "My Floody Valentine" to keep up his spirits. By 10 p.m., the water was too high for him to get inside.

He doesn't have insurance, but the items he hopes survive are not easily replaceable: computers, floppy disks and videotapes containing decades of essays, performances, ideas for musicals and "sassy satirical parodies of Broadway show tunes."

He's a cabaret performer accustomed to cracking jokes to keep the grief at bay.

"This is the most serious thing that's ever happened to me, but I don't know the punchline," he said. "For now, I'm trying to do my best to keep everybody laughing."

___

Har reported from San Francisco. Associated Press Writer Olga R. Rodriguez and Paul Elias in San Francisco also contributed to this report.

River Road, center, is flooded by the Russian River, right, in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in wine country north of San Francisco reached about 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, its highest level in 25 years. Floodwaters cut off the towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio and inundated several other communities. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
A national guard truck drives down a flooded road in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in wine country north of San Francisco reached about 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, its highest level in 25 years. Floodwaters cut off the towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio and inundated several other communities. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Flood waters from the Russian River flood Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Flooded homes are seen in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
The top of a garage is barely visible on a flooded home in in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
A car sits submerged in flood waters in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
People take their boats into the water on the flooded River Road in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Floodwaters cut off the towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio and inundated several other communities. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Flood water in Guerneville, Calif., starts to recede on Mill Street leaving behind mud caked reminders of the level of the Russian River, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.  (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Flood water in Guerneville, Calif., starts to recede leaving behind mud caked reminders of the level as Guerneville resident Janice Rojas relaxes on her kayak, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.  (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
A national guardsman navigates flood waters in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared an emergency for five northern counties after a heavy storm led to the worst flooding in 20 years in one county and the death of a man in another. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
The water recedes on Main Street in Guerneville, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The aftermath of the flood will leave a massive cleanup on the river. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
A man kayaks down a flooded street in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.  The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Residents prepare to row through flood waters in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings  (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
People kayak down Mill Street in flood waters from the overflowing Russian River in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
People kayak down Mill Street in flood waters from the overflowing Russian River in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.  The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Residents along Armstrong Woods Road head back to their home after the road became impassable to most vehicles, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019 in Guerneville, Calif. Thousands of people along a flooded river were under evacuation orders Wednesday as a relentless storm pounded Northern California, drenching the San Francisco Bay Area and pummeling the Sierra Nevada with snow. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Residents along Armstrong Woods Road head back to their home after the road became impassable to most vehicles, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019 in Guerneville, Calif. Thousands of people along a flooded river were under evacuation orders Wednesday as a relentless storm pounded Northern California, drenching the San Francisco Bay Area and pummeling the Sierra Nevada with snow. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
River Road, center, is flooded by the Russian River, right, in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in wine country north of San Francisco reached about 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, its highest level in 25 years. Floodwaters cut off the towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio and inundated several other communities. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
River Road, center, is flooded by the Russian River, right, in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in wine country north of San Francisco reached about 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, its highest level in 25 years. Floodwaters cut off the towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio and inundated several other communities. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Sycamore Court resident Jesse Hagan evacuates to higher ground in the apartment complex in lower Guerneville, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. The town of Guerneville and some two dozen other communities are at risk of flooding from the Russian River north of San Francisco, which hit flood stage Tuesday evening and was expected to peak Wednesday morning at more than 46 feet - the highest point in nearly a quarter-century. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Sycamore Court resident Jesse Hagan evacuates to higher ground in the apartment complex in lower Guerneville, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. The town of Guerneville and some two dozen other communities are at risk of flooding from the Russian River north of San Francisco, which hit flood stage Tuesday evening and was expected to peak Wednesday morning at more than 46 feet - the highest point in nearly a quarter-century. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
The top of a garage is barely visible on a flooded home in in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
The top of a garage is barely visible on a flooded home in in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Flood waters from the Russian River flood Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Flood waters from the Russian River flood Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
The water recedes on Main Street in Guerneville, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The aftermath of the flood will leave a massive cleanup on the river. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
The water recedes on Main Street in Guerneville, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The aftermath of the flood will leave a massive cleanup on the river. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
People kayak down Mill Street in flood waters from the overflowing Russian River in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.  The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
People kayak down Mill Street in flood waters from the overflowing Russian River in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Flood water in Guerneville, Calif., starts to recede leaving behind mud caked reminders of the level as Guerneville resident Janice Rojas relaxes on her kayak, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.  (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Flood water in Guerneville, Calif., starts to recede leaving behind mud caked reminders of the level as Guerneville resident Janice Rojas relaxes on her kayak, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
People kayak down Mill Street in flood waters from the overflowing Russian River in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
People kayak down Mill Street in flood waters from the overflowing Russian River in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Jonathan Von Renner greets Jesse James at the Sycamore Court Apartments in Guerneville, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. The night before, James moved to higher ground, only to find the water rose to cover the floor of the apartment. James was taken to dry land by the Russian River Fire swift water rescue team. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Jonathan Von Renner greets Jesse James at the Sycamore Court Apartments in Guerneville, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. The night before, James moved to higher ground, only to find the water rose to cover the floor of the apartment. James was taken to dry land by the Russian River Fire swift water rescue team. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Residents of Armstrong Woods Road evacuate as the water rises north of Guerneville, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. The town of Guerneville and some two dozen other communities are at risk of flooding from the Russian River north of San Francisco, which hit flood stage Tuesday evening and was expected to peak Wednesday morning at more than 46 feet - the highest point in nearly a quarter-century. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Residents of Armstrong Woods Road evacuate as the water rises north of Guerneville, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. The town of Guerneville and some two dozen other communities are at risk of flooding from the Russian River north of San Francisco, which hit flood stage Tuesday evening and was expected to peak Wednesday morning at more than 46 feet - the highest point in nearly a quarter-century. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Ryan Lance, front, and Anthony Nash of the Russian River Fire Protection District swift water rescue team rescue residents of Sycamore Court Apartment Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in lower Guerneville, Calif. Officials say flood waters have inundated the California town north of San Francisco and that the community is now only accessible by boats after a rain-swollen river overflowed its banks. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Ryan Lance, front, and Anthony Nash of the Russian River Fire Protection District swift water rescue team rescue residents of Sycamore Court Apartment Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in lower Guerneville, Calif. Officials say flood waters have inundated the California town north of San Francisco and that the community is now only accessible by boats after a rain-swollen river overflowed its banks. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
A national guardsman navigates flood waters in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared an emergency for five northern counties after a heavy storm led to the worst flooding in 20 years in one county and the death of a man in another. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
A national guardsman navigates flood waters in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared an emergency for five northern counties after a heavy storm led to the worst flooding in 20 years in one county and the death of a man in another. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
A car sits submerged in flood waters in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
A car sits submerged in flood waters in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Flood water in Guerneville, Calif., starts to recede on Mill Street leaving behind mud caked reminders of the level of the Russian River, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.  (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Flood water in Guerneville, Calif., starts to recede on Mill Street leaving behind mud caked reminders of the level of the Russian River, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
A national guard truck drives down a flooded road in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in wine country north of San Francisco reached about 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, its highest level in 25 years. Floodwaters cut off the towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio and inundated several other communities. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
A national guard truck drives down a flooded road in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in wine country north of San Francisco reached about 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, its highest level in 25 years. Floodwaters cut off the towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio and inundated several other communities. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Flooded homes are seen in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Flooded homes are seen in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Tim Russell of Guerneville attempts to pull a motorist from Armstrong Woods Road after it became inundated in Guerneville, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, but Russell became stuck himself. The town of Guerneville and some two dozen other communities are at risk of flooding from the Russian River north of San Francisco, which hit flood stage Tuesday evening and was expected to peak Wednesday morning at more than 46 feet - the highest point in nearly a quarter-century. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Tim Russell of Guerneville attempts to pull a motorist from Armstrong Woods Road after it became inundated in Guerneville, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, but Russell became stuck himself. The town of Guerneville and some two dozen other communities are at risk of flooding from the Russian River north of San Francisco, which hit flood stage Tuesday evening and was expected to peak Wednesday morning at more than 46 feet - the highest point in nearly a quarter-century. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
A man kayaks down a flooded street in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.  The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
A man kayaks down a flooded street in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
People take their boats into the water on the flooded River Road in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Floodwaters cut off the towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio and inundated several other communities. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
People take their boats into the water on the flooded River Road in Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Floodwaters cut off the towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio and inundated several other communities. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Residents prepare to row through flood waters in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings  (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
Residents prepare to row through flood waters in the town of Guerneville, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The Russian River in Sonoma County crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, flooding about 2,000 buildings (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
John Buergler of the Sonoma County Sheriff's marine unit patrols Neely Road in Guerneville, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 as the Russian River recedes, but continues to flood. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
John Buergler of the Sonoma County Sheriff's marine unit patrols Neely Road in Guerneville, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 as the Russian River recedes, but continues to flood. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)