FERNLEY, Nevada – Heavy snow covered the Northern California mountains and rain and wind hit the U.S. West Coast as a third day of winter storms left at least three people dead and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in California, Oregon and Washington without power.
Forecasters predicted more rain and snow Sunday, but without the severe storms that have pounded the region in recent days. Winter storm warnings were in effect in parts of the region.
A ruptured levee sent a frigid "wall of water" from a rain-swollen canal into the desert town of Fernley on Saturday, flooding hundreds of homes and forcing the rescue of dozens of people by helicopter and boat.
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No injuries were reported in the flood in the town about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Reno, after a section of the Truckee Canal levee up to 150 feet (45 meters) long broke early Saturday.
Up to 3,500 people were temporarily stranded and an estimated 1,500 ended up being displaced from their homes, Huntley said Saturday night. About 25 people remained at a shelter set up at a high school after a peak of about 150 earlier in the day.
Eric Cornett estimated the frigid water was about 2 feet (more than a half meter) deep and rising fast when he drove away from his home with his wife and three children.
"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," he said.
Two helicopters aided crews in pontoons in rescuing at least 18 people from driveways and rooftops. Residents in fishing boats rescued many more.
By afternoon, the Truckee River water flowing into the canal was diverted upstream, said Ernie Schank, president of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District. As the water receded, Fernley Mayor Todd Cutler said he had reports of damage to at least 300 to 400 homes.
One official suggested burrowing rodents might have contributed to the break in the levee along with the heavy rains, but the cause was not clear.
The National Weather Service recorded 1.91 inches (4.85 centimeters) of rain at Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Friday, a record.
Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, who visited the shelter and toured the area by helicopter Saturday, declared the county an emergency area. The Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to conduct a damage assessment Monday.
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared emergencies in three counties hit hard by the storms.
Remote sensors and ski areas in the high Sierra Nevada had recorded up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow since Friday morning, and the west side of the Lake Tahoe Basin already had about the same amount by Friday night, the National Weather Service office in Reno said Saturday.
As much as 9 feet (2.75 meters) of snow was possible in the Sierra by Sunday.
California and Nevada officials said low visibility prompted authorities to again close nearly 100 miles (160 kilometers) of Interstate 80 from about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Sacramento until just over the eastern border because of blizzard conditions. A stretch of the highway had previously been closed and then reopened.
The weather also was blamed for a 17-car pileup that closed the westbound lanes of I-80 near Patrick just east of the Reno-Sparks area Saturday afternoon.
More than 450,000 homes and businesses from the Bay Area to the Central Valley were in the dark Saturday, down from more than 1.6 million the day before.
East of Los Angeles, Lindsey Marie Erickson, 25, died after her pickup truck was swept into a flood channel, police said. Rescuers found her boyfriend, Rene Valencia, 36, clinging to a tree.
Authorities said the couple unwittingly drove onto a flooded road in Chino because someone removed a barricade.
The storm also was blamed for the death of a woman killed by a falling tree in Oregon, and a falling branch killed a transportation worker in Northern California on Friday.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared a state of emergency for Umatilla County because of wind damage.