Levee breaks, floods Nevada town

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Saturday, January 5, 2008
— Maureen Tabata and her husband woke up Saturday to find water surrounding their home. When it started pouring in, there was nothing they could do to stop it.

“We did our best to block the water but it came rushing in through the doors and garage. The force of the water knocked over the TV,” Tabata said.

Tabata, her husband and more than a dozen others in this town about 30 miles east of Reno had to be rescued by boat and helicopter after a chunk of an earthen levee up to 150 feet long was washed away by a rain-swollen canal.

The flood covered about a square mile and temporarily stranded as many as 3,500 people before receding. No injuries were reported.

“All of our furniture, carpet—everything is destroyed. It’s just unbelievable,” Tabata said. “It’s all muddy. I never thought I’d experience anything like this in Nevada. It’s like if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, because everything is destroyed.”

The break came as the third storm in as many days pummeled the West Coast, raising a threat of mud slides and flooding in California, blacking out thousands of customers, causing at least two deaths and blanketing the Sierra Nevada with deep snow.

In Fernley, Lyon County Fire Chief Scott Huntley, one of the first on the scene, described it as a “wall of water about 2 feet high going down Farm District Road.”

“In some places folks had to deal with 8 feet of water,” he said. “Firefighters were in chest-deep water making rescues.”

Two helicopters aided rescue crews in boats in rescuing at least 18 people from driveways and rooftops. More than 100 people had gathered Saturday afternoon at a shelter set up at a high school.

“It was like our house was dropped in the middle of the river,” said Eric Cornett, who estimated the water was about 2 feet deep and rising fast when he drove away from his home with his wife and three children.

“Garbage cans and pieces of wood were floating down the street,” he said. “We saw water coming in the back door and tried to grab as much stuff as possible to save it. The water was rising very quickly and it was scary. The water was freezing. I couldn’t even feel my feet.”

By afternoon, the Truckee River water flowing into the canal was diverted upstream, said Ernie Schank, president of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District. Fernley Mayor Todd Cutler said he had reports of damage to at least 300 to 400 homes.

Schank suggested burrowing rodents may have contributed to the break in the levee along with the heavy rains, but the cause wasn’t clear.

In California, more than 450,000 homes and businesses from the San Francisco Bay area to the Central Valley were without power Saturday, down from more than 1.6 million Friday.

Additional rain and snow is expected to blanket Northern California through Thursday.

Last updated: 2:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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