Russian River Valley braces to evacuate as nearly 40 feet of water is projected to flood the area

ByStephanie Sierra and Lena Howland KGO logo
Saturday, January 7, 2023
Russian River Valley braces to evacuate due to projected to flooding
Communities along the Russian River Valley are gearing up to evacuate as another stormy weekend lies ahead.

MONTE RIO, Calif. (KGO) -- In the North Bay, an evacuation warning is still in effect for people living near the Russian River floodway between Healdsburg and Jenner.

Communities along the Russian River Valley are gearing up to evacuate as another stormy weekend lies ahead.

Some are calling it the countdown to the crest. For Lee Prince, the flooding threat is right in his own backyard.

"Cleaning up the mess of three years of not flooding and got comfortable," said Prince raking his property. "Life on the river you got to keep it pretty minimal."

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Prince lives at Maribel Trailer Park & Campground in Forestville-a compound nestled along the Russian River. Residents are calling the property a soon-to-be island as heavy flooding is forecasted to hit the area Monday afternoon, according to projections from the National Weather Service.

"This one looks like it's going to be pretty bad though, get pretty high," said Dave Redden, a Forestville resident.

"Are you scared?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked.

"No not at all?" Redden said. "It's just a pain in the butt."

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A pain the Russian River Valley is accustomed to as widespread flooding has impacted the area for decades - most recently in 2019.If history repeats itself, streets in Guerneville will turn into swamps, cars could be submerged in water and canoes will be a main source of transport around the area.

Neighbor Ted Schroeder of "Burke's Canoes" remembers it well.

"You see the foggy part of the windows? That's where it went up to," he told ABC7, pointing to where his storage building flooded out in 2019.

The legacy family business is no stranger to stormy weather, but Schroeder hopes the days ahead won't be as bad as 1986.

MORE: Video shows extent of damage left behind around Bay Area by deadly Level 5 storm

Damaging hurricane-force winds and relentless rain wreaked havoc on the Bay Area Wednesday night as a deadly "bomb cyclone" battered the region.

"Our main building in 1986, the highest flood ever, it was over the roof of that building, everything inside was destroyed," he said.

For Schroeder, that was hell in high water - a reality for the region come Tuesday night where the flooding is projected to crest at nearly 40 feet.

"40 feet is going to be over the road!" he said.

A projected swampy scene of road closures.

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"At 38 feet the bridge down there will be covered, that's Bohemian Highway," said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman describing the potential areas for road closures in the city.

"At 38 feet, Hwy 116 coming out of Guerneville will be closed...Monte Rio will essentially be cut in half."

On Friday morning, folks in Monte Rio took advantage of a small break in the severe weather to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

"It looks like it's going to flood within a couple of days if it keeps raining like it was," said Jeff Morton, a Cazadero resident.

"It was amazing to see the water level this high. I've seen it this high in 2019. It almost touched the bottom of the bridge," said John Behrens, a Villa Grande resident.

Bracing for history to repeat itself -- with the 2019 flood still fresh on his mind -- for Liam Brayton, that meant that it was time to roll up his sleeves and help in Monte Rio.

"I'm just kind of like that. I help people if they need help," Brayton said.

Brayton spent two days this week lining sandbags outside of the beloved Monte Rio Theater -- which overlooks the rising Russian River -- out of the goodness of his own heart, while the owners were dealing with flooding in Healdsburg.

VIDEO: 'It takes a community:' Neighbors helping neighbors prepare for Russian River flooding

Folks in the North Bay took advantage of a small break in the severe weather to prepare for potential flooding from the winter storm.

"It flooded last time, and they had to do a whole remodel thing and what not, and so they're just trying to save it and keep it and everybody likes this thing," he said.

And he wasn't the only one.

"I think it takes a community to help a community, and so everyone has to have skills and be looking around to see how they can help their neighbors," Behrens said.

Radio at the ready, in case cell phone towers go down, Behrens wants to keep the line of communication open with his network of neighbors and is doing all that he can to prepare.

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"We have generators and backup batteries because power can go out for days, and a little charger for your cell phone isn't going to do it, so we want to be able to keep refrigerators going or lights or water heaters," he said.

For now, it's a bit of a waiting game for folks along the Russian River, as they wait for the river to possibly reach flood stage by Monday.

"They're lucky we have breaks like this," Morton said.

In the meantime, community members are taking advantage of this break in the storm to help each other.

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