Stormy weather brings flooding, outages, accidents


Storms prompt flood concerns in Petaluma

As expected, the North Bay saw the heaviest rain on Friday, with the heavy downpours causing some spotty problems.

A parking lot on Industrial Avenue in Petaluma was flooded, and as a result, the business owner couldn't get his delivery truck in or out. The water has receded considerably, but the owner expects this to happen all over again this weekend.

Leland Fishman with Fishman Supply Co. says he's been down this road before, or at least his parking lot has. The lot is submerged with up to two and a half feet of water, "It's the first place that floods in Petaluma, it's sometimes the only place that floods in Petaluma," Fishman said. "There's been a lot of work done to contain flooding downstream and ever since that work's been done, this happens to us at least once or twice a year."

Not far away, the morning's heavy downpours turned a creek that was barely babbling three days ago into fast-moving waterway that overflowed its banks near an office complex on North McDowell Boulevard.

"It's up about 4 1/2 feet from yesterday," said Petaluma resident Andrew Stegner. "Yesterday we were seeing ground, grass and puddles, the ground was saturated. If you can believe the predictions of the rain that we're supposed to get, this will flood."

Those who haven't had the water encroach on them yet are doing what they can to make sure it doesn't, as the next round of heavy rains lines up off the coast.

Rob Bogan works for Jerry's Refrigeration, a company on North Petaluma Boulevard that sits in a low spot near the Petaluma River. The property hasn't flooded in years, but there's concern it might if the forecast for this weekend holds true.

"Well, they're saying that the tide is supposed to be seven foot high in the river and the river's right back behind us here," Bogan said. "About 8 years ago, the river overflowed at about 7 and a half feet. So, if it's a heavy rain you never know what it's likely to get to."

All eyes will be on the rivers, creeks and trouble spots because, as we know, the rivers and creeks are full and the ground is saturated as we head into the weekend.

Mountain road shut down in Santa Cruz County

People in the Santa Cruz Mountains are coping with lots of downed power lines and road closures. The storm shut down a mountain road in Santa Cruz County. The trouble is on Highway 9 between Felton and Ben Lomond in the mountains.

It was about a half-mile segment of the highway between Glenn Arbor Road and Mill Road that was closed all day long for significant PG&E repairs. It's not expected to reopen until about 9:30 p.m.

People who live up there know what kind of problems a big, wet storm can bring and they've been preparing for it all week, with many residents stocking up on sandbags.

Valley Churches United Missions in Ben Lomond is a staging area for the fire department, "We're always ready to roll," said church operations director Linda S. Lovelace. "And this time of year, since October we've been here seven days a week."

Right outside their front door, Highway 9 was closed when a tree took down power lines and a power pole. PG&E was busy all up and down Highway 9 through the San Lorenzo Valley with the same story -- lines downed by falling trees.

"We can handle a lot," Lovelace said. "People are accustomed to it. But you always have new people or you have people stuck on the wrong side of the tree down."

At the "Stop and Get It" store at the Highway 9 closure between Felton and Ben Lomond, owner Bob Bailes says he kept the lights on with a generator, "About the best thing we can do is make sure water is running off the best we can. That's about it. The big trees if they decide to go over, not much a person can do. Redwoods are fine, it's these big Douglas firs that get old and fall over. Those are the ones we worry about"

In Boulder Creek the locals checked out the San Lorenzo River. Carol and Wayne Hendryx say on Thursday you could still see the river banks.

"Whoa look at that big huge log went flying down there," Carol said. "My rain gauge at my house, tiny rain gauge was one inch couple days ago, then last night filled it up to five, this morning another two. And it's still raining."

Wayne added, "You take a big risk when you live in the country. Trees are going to go, power's gonna go. You hedge your bets as well as you can."

Marin and Sonoma County flood concerns

Along Highway 101 just north of Sausalito, the Manzanita Park and Ride was a puddle. And at the Commodore Marina, houseboat residents were wading from their homes to get to their cars.

"Oh the wind and the houses were moving," houseboat resident Kevin Zydonis said. "It was just, crazy!"

At noon Friday the tide reached its highest point -- just a foot away from flooding houses along Corte Madera Creek.

Trees toppled along the Bay Shore and at JJ's Christmas Tree lot near the Stinson Beach exit off 101, Ilene McHolland's tent blew away, twisting the tent poles and making a mess, "Yeah, it's a little bit of a setback," McHolland said. "The tent has to all completely come down." Fortunately the trees weren't damaged and she'll be back in business Saturday.

In Larkspur, trees into power lines were blamed for knocking out electricity to residents of Palm Hill. Crews got the power back on by 2 p.m.

No power at Wade Thomas Elementary School in San Anselmo meant 447 kindergarten through 5th grade students were given the day off.

Sandbags lined the sliding garage doors down the street from the school, and there are some on San Anselmo's main street just in case. Residents have been stopping by the creek all day to check on it.

"Looks like we still got 10 or 15 feet of room to go, but I've lived in this town a long time and that level can go away really fast," San Anselmo resident Phil Desrosiers said.

Meanwhile, in Sonoma County, Highway 121 at Route 12 was closed Friday due to flooding. It was lined with vehicles abandoned by drivers who either couldn't read the warning signs or ignored them.

Though, to hear the Sonoma County Department of Public Works tell it, state and federal authority has much to do with this repeating problem. The intersection floods because a nearby creek overflows. Dredging would solve the problem, but those higher authorities say no.

"Their argument is it would have serious environmental impact if we dredged the creek downstream," said Tom O'Kane with Sonoma County Public Works. "I don't think the people who deal with the flooding would agree, but it's the federal agencies."

Elsewhere, we found Sonoma County to be wet, but functional. Expect the Russian River to approach flood stage this weekend, but to remain in its banks. Also expect more minor flooding along smaller streets and roads, at least until the residue of summer and fall wash away.

And if rain remains persistent, expect the soil to saturate early, which could mean more pressing problems in the days, weeks, or months, ahead.

"Well I think we're close to being saturated," O'Kane said. "Tomorrow we're getting another five inches of rain, they say. We'll have to see how it plays out."

Peninsula deals with minor flooding, outages

Hundreds of homes and businesses on the Peninsula are still in the dark because of power outages.

In Atherton in San Mateo County, workers at Menlo-Antherton High School were busy trying to drain the water from the football field, which was flooded. The water level stood about three to four inches above the new turf field which was just built this summer. One of the main pumps had broken during the night.

In San Bruno, hundreds of residents in a hillside neighborhood near Skyline Boulevard lost their power during the early morning hours.

The limb of a large tree broke off, falling on a PG&E utility pole which cracked in half, snapping the lines. Crews were trying to get power back to some customers as quickly as they could.

Dan Capwell is the foreman, "Half the people will get power back on within an hour and a half or so. The rest will be out for a while til we fix that pole." And that could take some time.

But this is a neighborhood that seems used to power outages. They happen when strong winds whip up the hillside,

Elizabeth Borey and her husband have lived here for four decades, "It got so bad my husband and I a few years ago bought a campstove," Elizabeth said. "Because our stove is electric and we're so used to our electricity being out, we're now using our campstove."

On Thursday we met Dennis Lim who owns Shiok Singapore Restaurant in Menlo Park. He was at the sandbag station getting ready for the big storm because he's had flood problems before, "Sometimes when it rains so much, it just can't hold, it floods in the kitchen." When we checked in with him on Friday his restaurant was open and dry. Though he didn't' need the sandbags this time, he said, "I was ready, better to be prepared!"

Storms affect events in the East Bay

In the East Bay the rain could pick up Friday night, but that didn't stop the traditional tree lighting ceremony at Oakland's Jack London Square.

While the storms have put some East Bay celebrations on hold, others will happen rain or shine.

The intersection of 3rd and Washington streets is a virtual lake. Rain water is so high a pond blocks parking spaces and has poured into one lane of traffic.

The Oakland Zoo's water fowl love the weather; but the event planners and organizers, not so much. The high winds and heavy rain took down trees, caused heavy runoff, and pushed the Zoo Lights grand opening tentatively to Monday.

"You know, as soon as that sun breaks out, I want them all to come back out," said Dr. Joel Parrott with the Oakland Zoo. "After being cooped up so much, that's a good time to go to the Oakland Zoo."

Also wishing for sun are those planning Oakland's 13th annual holiday parade. More than 2,000 volunteers help to pull off the seasonal spectacle. Santa, music, and tons of kids' goodies make it a holiday favorite.

Event organizer Patricia Brooks says that rain or shine, the show will go on, "Oh yes, it's gonna happen. Don't think for one minute it's not gonna happen. It's happened for 13 years and will happen forever."

The parade will run along Broadway and 20th streets. It starts at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Accidents cause widespread traffic problems

The weather created a traffic nightmare for a lot of Bay Area commuters Friday morning. At one point, the CHP was responding to over 90 active accidents.

Caltrans also had a busy day. They have more than 300 cameras trained across the nine counties in the Bay Area to monitor traffic. The red colored dots indicate problems where traffic has been brought to a standstill and attention may be needed.

"We find out what the problems are as quickly as possible so that we can dispatch the right people and the right equipment," Caltrans spokesperson Bob Haus said.

The CHP responded quickly to an accident on westbound 580. They believe the driver of a white sedan may have been going faster than weather and road conditions allow. They say the car flipped on impact and the driver was taken to the hospital.

In Antioch a 3-year-old strapped in a car seat suffered serious head injuries when he was thrown from a jeep during a spinout on wet roads. It happened on Highway Four just east of the Hillcrest Avenue exit.

The force of the spin threw the boy out of his car-seat, and through a window. There were others injured in the crash as well. No word yet on any other their conditions.

In San Francisco, a huge eucalyptus tree fell at Pine and Buchanan around 9:15 a.m. blocking three lanes of traffic and crushing a newly-purchased Mercedes-Benz. The car's owner says her insurance company needs to determine if the city or the nearby property owner will have to pay for the damages.

Mudslide on Highway 84

The storm has also caused big problems in the East Bay including a mud and rock slide on Highway 84. Traffic was blocked in both directions for more than an hour and even after the debris had been cleaned up, motorists had to deal with residual delays.

While there were not many problems within the Hayward city limits, there were dozens of accidents on the highways and freeways around the area. "You got puddles, you got water, you got trucks going by, you can't see. It's just been a little crazy," Hayward resident Andrew Mout said.

"Basically, slow down," CHP Officer Zack Hunter advised. "Increase your following distances. Just drive safe."

Widespread power outages

About 2,800 PG&E customers in the Bay Area are still without power this evening because of storm-related outages, a utility spokesman said.

The affected customers include 1,500 in the North Bay, 400 along the Peninsula, 800 in the East Bay, 50 in the South Bay and 50 in San Francisco, PG&E spokesman Fiona Chan said.

An additional 1,200 customers are without power in the Santa Cruz Mountains as well as just over 1,200 others in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, Chan said.

The storm had caused outages to nearly 16,000 Bay Area PG&E customers at its peak overnight, according to PG&E.

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