HOLLISTER, Calif. (AP) — Crews using boats Wednesday rescued about 50 Northern California farmland residents trapped in flooded homes and normally rainy Portland, Oregon was slammed with a rare foot of snow as a powerful storm system battered five western U.S. states.
In Nevada, at least 20,000 people near Lake Tahoe had no electricity as the storm fed by an “atmospheric river” weather phenomenon that sucked water from the Pacific Ocean downed trees and caused mudslides that damaged power lines.
Reports of the Northern California flooding started about 2 a.m. Wednesday as water from a quickly rising creek in the small rural city of Hollister deluged homes on a two-lane stretch of road called Lovers Lane.
Torrents of rain gushed down the street even after rescuers finished evacuating residents more than seven hours later. The water by that time was receding but still waist-deep in places.
“It’s just a lot of water,” said Kevin O’Neill, emergency services manager for San Benito County. “Fields that look like lakes. The ground just can’t soak it up. Vehicles that are partly submerged, homes have water damage.”
A reporting crew from KTVU heard an elderly woman yelling from her window that she wanted to be rescued and that her husband had recent surgery and could not walk out of the house.
Forecasters said precipitation would continue through Thursday, but the brunt of the system had passed after delivering the heaviest rain in a decade to parts of Northern California and Nevada and surprising Portland with what forecasters said was its biggest snowfall since 2008.
Parts of California’s wine country were among the hardest hit, with up to 13 inches of rain over three days that flooded vineyards.
The massive rain and snowfall that prompted a rare blizzard warning in parts of the Sierra is helping much of Northern California recover from a six-year drought. The series of storms has also added 33 billion gallons of water to Lake Tahoe since Jan. 1.
The snowstorm in Oregon and southwest Washington state toppled trees, closed schools and cut off power to thousands. Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon closed Tuesday and remained closed on Wednesday with more than 8 feet snow on the ground.
In central Washington state, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office warned motorists to stay off roads, saying snow drifts of 3 to 5 feet made them impassable.
The intensity of the snowstorm came as a surprise to meteorologists, most of whom expected no more than 4 inches.
“We are going to be analyzing this one, because this is a special one,” National Weather Service meteorologist Treena Jensen said.