Strongest in series of storms hits soggy Northern California

Rescue crews survey a flooded neighborhood Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, in Felton, Calif. Flash flood watches are in place for parts of Northern California down through the Central Coast as heavy rains swamp roads and threaten to overtop rivers and creeks. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

GUERNEVILLE, Calif. (AP) — The strongest of this week's drenching storms moved ashore Thursday in Northern California, raising the risk of flooding and mudslides in the region of already soggy hillsides and swollen rivers.

Flood and wind warnings were in place again north of San Francisco, where residents along the Russian River stacked sandbags to protect their properties.

The river overtopped its banks in some areas and flooded streets Wednesday, but began to drop later in the day. The wine region community never dried out after damaging flooding during storms last month.

"The main road to my house is flooded right now, but there are fire roads you can take. You just avoid flooded roads and pay attention to mudslides and downed trees," said Robert Rathe, a server at Trio Restaurant & Bar in Guerneville. "I don't think anyone is really concerned, it won't be as bad as it was two weeks ago. Two weeks ago people were getting around in canoes."

Lynn Crescione, owner of Creekside Inn & Resort in Guerneville, said the rain is expected to block access to the property, but the buildings will be safe because they are elevated on stilts.

“We've been here 35 years, and we've risen most of our buildings over time. When it rains we just go upstairs," Crescione said.

The National Weather Service warned that the nearby Napa River could swell beyond flood stage by Thursday evening and residents should be prepared to move to higher ground.

Southern California got a break from days of rain, but dense fog made for treacherous driving and led to delays at Los Angeles International Airport.

After days of steady rain, mudslides blocked a Santa Cruz highway and slammed against a family compound, destroying one house and damaging another.

Jennifer Ray said a mudslide carrying rocks and trees knocked off her pregnant sister's house from its foundation before dragging and overturning several of the family's cars and damaging her own mobile home. Her family lives on a compound built on a Los Gatos hillside, where her father also has a home.

 "All we could do is watch as it all came down and trap my mom's dogs in her car," Ray told KNTV. The dogs are now safe and no one was hurt.

Nearly 5 inches of rain fell in a 12-hour span Wednesday in the San Joaquin Valley, swamping roads and swelling waterways to critical levels.

The water levels at an earthen dam on Lewis Forks south of Yosemite National Park that authorities said was in imminent danger of failing Tuesday had receded by Wednesday evening. But with more rain expected Thursday and Friday, things might get worse again, Madera County sheriff's Cmdr. Bill Ward said.

Downstream residents in the rural Cedar Valley area should be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice, he said.

To the north, officials shut down water flow from a dam in Butte County after chunks of concrete went flying off the emergency spillway, creating a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole.

The Department of Water Resources said the erosion at Lake Oroville does not pose a threat to the earthen dam or public safety, and the reservoir has capacity to handle the continuing rain.

Water officials released a test flow Wednesday afternoon to assess how much water could rush past the damaged spillway and planned another test Thursday.

As rain pounds the San Francisco Bay Area, snow in the Sierra isn't expected until late Thursday when cooler air is forecast to move in, said Eric Kurth, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

"It depends exactly when the cool air moves in and how much precipitation we are still getting,"  Kurth told the San Francisco Chronicle .      

Forecasters said Donner Pass should see up to 8 inches of snow Friday and Echo Summit could receive up to 12 inches.

The weather service said the storms were part of a "classic pineapple express," referring to an atmospheric river phenomenon that carries moisture across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii and dumps it on Northern California. It could deliver even more rain starting Thursday, forecasters predicted.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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