SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Monday in seven northern and central California counties battered by storms and floods, warning that levee breaks threaten the region as forecasters predict another week of rain.
"There's great vulnerability in the San Joaquin Valley and the Central Valley," Schwarzenegger said after touring the state's flood operations center. "We want to do everything we can to make sure that we don't have a levee break."
The counties are Amador, Calaveras, Fresno, Merced, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Stanislaus. The governor wrote in his declaration that "extreme peril to the safety of persons and property" jeopardized those regions following the rainiest March on record and an unusually wet start to April.
The declaration effectively means the counties need state help to recover. It does not set out specific actions or dollar figures on aid, but directs "all agencies of the state" to make available their staff, equipment and facilities.
The step will accelerate the flow of state dollars to local and county response agencies that have been straining to cope with the flooding and storms, said Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.
The series of storms has left many reservoirs in California's Central Valley groaning at full capacity, and has triggered scattered levee breaks in recent weeks. It has washed out roads, deposited tons of debris and forced hundreds of residents from their homes.
The record-setting spring rains followed an already wet winter: Schwarzenegger declared states of emergency in 34 counties in January. In February, he declared another state of emergency covering the state's fragile levee system, and asked President Bush for a federal disaster declaration on that infrastructure. Bush has not yet responded.
The threat of breaks "just reminds us again how sensitive and how vulnerable our levees really are, that any little thing now can really create a huge break in our levees," Schwarzenegger told reporters. "We are now almost at the levels of 1997, when we had a huge disaster here."
Meteorologists are predicting another week of rain in the Central Valley, and flood-control authorities were warily watching the farming community of Vernalis, on the banks of the San Joaquin River. The community is a prime location for flooding because of heavy runoff from the Sierra Nevada and the likelihood of more rain.
A weekend break in the weather allowed officials a chance to shore up levees and other water-control sites at risk of failing.