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Sonoma County Gazette

After the Flood the First 24 Hours

Mar 1, 2019


Heartbreak. Help. Humor. Resilience.

The atmospheric river that began Monday February 25 and lasted through February 27 is one for the books. Record rains flooded our local waterways. The Laguna de Santa Rosa and Russian River swelled to historic heights; the Russian River peaked at 45.4 feet late Wednesday night, clocking in at the worst flood since 1995. 2,600 houses and dozens of businesses were under water. 3,700 citizens were evacuated. Mudslides buckled roads throughout west county, cutting off neighborhoods from their larger communities. Roadways washed out and flooded, putting us two steps back after beginning to make small gains in improving our infamous pot-holed roadways. First responders worked around the clock, making swift water rescue after swift water rescue, risking their own lives to ensure the safety of others.

We have to recognize that this was a Big One, and give ourselves a little time and space to recover. There is a lot of work to be done in the weeks and months to come. Things won’t bounce back to normal overnight. Being a historically flood-prone area doesn’t make it any easier to do the hard physical work of picking up your soggy belongings or mucking out your garage. It doesn’t make the pain of ruined cherished items or unexpected expenses any less real or easier to overcome; and that’s OK. It’s OK to take some time to grieve your losses; it’s OK to pause before you pick up the hose, mop or push broom. There are a lot of people feeling the same thing right now. 

Everyone who lives by the Russian River loves the Russian River. It’s why we live there. But it is a rare occasion that we are this humbled by her. Seeing tiny houses surrounded by a sea of muddy water, seeing trees torn up like matchsticks in a massive mudslide, seeing parking lots and businesses submerged... I was sobered by the widespread devastation and by how much our community will need to pull together in the weeks and months to come. But I was also galvanized to act, and work hard to help our communities get back on their feet.

After you take a little time for yourself... It’s time to put on our boots and gloves, grab a bucket, grab some disinfectant and start to clean up. It’s time to help out our neighbors and small businesses. It’s time to fall back on that distinctly Russian River sense of resilience, independence and humor. I’m already amazed at the stories I’m hearing of neighbor helping neighbor; I’m already amazed by friends who suffered serious losses still cracking jokes and making us all laugh.

We’ve done it before and we can do it again. We have wonderfully strong and unique communities along the entire River. We’re Guerneville and Rio Nido and Monte Rio. We’re Hacienda and Forestville and Duncans Mills and Cazadero. We’re Sebastopol. (OK, actually, Sebastopol is just Sebastopol.) All joking aside, we are West County and no amount of water can drown our resiliency and ability to build back stronger than we were before.

#SonomaStrong #BetterTogether #WeAreWestCounty

Take care of yourselves — and don’t forget your gloves and muck boots.



Local Assistance Center to open Sunday

We’ve been hard at work at the County to open up resources for lower Russian River residents. To help homeowners and renters with next steps regarding storm-related property damage and recovery, Sonoma County will open a Local Assistance Center (LAC) from 12 to 6 p.m., on Sunday, March 3, at the former Bank of America Building, 16390 Main Street in Guerneville. The LAC will remain open through Thursday, March 7. Daily hours will be:

Monday, March 4, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tuesday, March 5, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday, March 6, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Thursday, March 7, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Several government agencies and nonprofits will answer questions, offer resources and take applications for various services. All Sonoma County residents can receive services regardless of immigration status.

The agencies at the LAC include: 

Permit Sonoma for over-the-counter permits for some repairs and help to begin the permit process for structural work and building safety

County of Sonoma Human Services Department will take applications for CalFresh food benefits and Medi-Cal

County of Sonoma Health Department, covering Animal Services, Environmental Health and Behavioral Health

Department of Motor Vehicles for those who lost identification and driver licenses

California Office of Emergency Services

Community Development Commission for housing issues

Employment Development Department for help with unemployment

Nonprofits, including the American Red Cross and Salvation Army


The LAC will also have information on topics related to the flood:

Directions for where to pick-up re-entry clean-up kits with cleaning tools and supplies (See below for additional information on clean-up kits)

Debris drop-off locations for non-hazardous waste, and dates and times for hazardous waste drop offs

Important health and safety information

Re-Entry and Clean Up: Next Steps for Flood Recovery

Damage Assessment

Re-entry into the Lower Russian River area began around 12:30 on Friday afternoon. While county crews worked to re-open roads, Permit Sonoma teams started to conduct damages assessments on the 2,600 properties that sustained flood damage. These assessments will continue throughout the weekend.

Color-coded tags will be posted on buildings after assessments are complete.

GREEN tags mean the building is safe to enter.

YELLOW tags indicate limited entry to the building.

RED tags mean the property is not safe to enter.

To ensure your safety, please wait until your property has been assessed before entering. I know it’s scary and horrible and monstrous to have a bunch of government type people poking around your property. Let’s be honest. Nobody wants the government up in their business, let alone after a major disaster. But I am here to say: if they ask you questions, please talk to FEMA and Cal-OES. The damage estimates they come up with will determine whether and what kind of help we get from the federal and state government. So...don’t be shy about telling officials that your repairs might be expensive. (After all, they’re not going to be billing you.) Instead, these estimates will be used to determine whether our disaster is big enough (read: expensive enough) to qualify for serious help.


Clean-up Kits

The American Red Cross is distributing re-entry clean-up kits that include:

A bucket


A mop

A broom

Cleaning solution


A limited quantity of leather gloves is also available. Kits can be picked up Friday, March 1 through Sunday, March 3 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the following locations:


Guerneville: Guerneville Park and Ride, Highway 116

Forestville: Mirabel Park and Ride, Mirabel and River Road

Monte Rio: Monte Rio Community Center


Debris Boxes and Dumpsters

The county is setting up several locations for debris drop off. We ask that you do not dump debris in the roadways. Debris boxes will be available Saturday, March 2 through Monday, March 4. Debris box locations include:


Forestville: Mirabel Park and Ride

Monte Rio: Monte Rio Park and Recreation River Access

Guerneville: Drake and Neeley

Guerneville: Guerneville Park and Ride


We will continue to provide updates on debris boxes and dumpsters as we can. Please note a Recology liaison will attend Sunday’s community meeting at El Molino High School and will be able to answer additional questions.

Property Value

Please note that calamities, such as floods, can affect the value of your home and property. The County Assessor’s Office has forms available that you can file for reassessment of your property.

Update: West County Bus Routes

Thanks to slightly improved conditions, the Sonoma County Transit is planning to restart Route 20 on Sunday, March 3, one day earlier than originally planned. Initially, the route will only travel west as far as downtown Guerneville, according to Sonoma County Transit System’s Manager Bryan Albee. As conditions improve the route will extend to Monte Rio, which Albee hopes will occur by Tuesday, March 5.


Occidental, which is served by local Route 28 and a morning and evening Route 20 Express trip will not be able to serve Occidental due to a mudslide. Until the slide is repaired and the road is passable for wide vehicles, buses will not be able to serve Occidental. The County Department of Transportation and Public Works is working to restore road conditions.


Please visit for current operations and notifications of any upcoming changes.

What to do after a flood: The First 24 Hours

If we learned anything from rebuild of the October 2017 firestorms, it’s that taking a few steps within the first 24 hours of experiencing a natural disaster can go a long ways in the long-term recovery process. Please consider following these tips:

1.    Check for any visible structural damage, such as warping, loosened or cracked foundation elements, cracks and holes before entering your home and contact utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric and sewer lines.


2.    Take pictures and/or video before you remove any water or make any repairs. Digital versions are the best, because they can be stored electronically and easily copied. If you start removing water or making repairs before photographing the damage, you could potentially decrease the extent of any insurance coverage.


3.    Protect your health by wearing waders or hip- or waist-high waterproof boots and rubber gloves to remove water-damaged possessions. Remember that the water could contain chemicals, human and animal waste and other contaminants. As such, it is important to throw out any food that may have come into contact with flood water.

4.    Call your insurance company. While groundwater flood damage typically isn’t covered by conventional homeowners insurance policies, you can talk to your insurer about the extent of your coverage.


5.    Remove the water once you get the OK from your insurer. Sump pumps, available at most hardware or home supply stores, and wet vacs are the best tools for doing so.


6.    Mitigate mold damage quickly. Mold can develop within 24 to 48 hours of a flood, so it is important to remove wet contents, including bedding and carpeting, quickly.



7.    Make sure to secure your property, too. The Sheriff’s Department is on the lookout for looters and the District’s Attorney will prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.


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