HOLLISTER, Calif. – Rescue workers used boats and firetrucks to evacuate dozens of Northern California residents from their flooded homes Wednesday as a drought-busting series of storms began to move out of the region after days of heavy rain and snow that toppled trees and created havoc as far north as Portland, Oregon.
Reports of the flooding started about 2 a.m. Wednesday as water from a quickly rising creek in the small rural town of Hollister deluged homes on a two-lane stretch of road called Lovers Lane.
Torrents of rain gushed down the street even after rescuers finished evacuating residents more than seven hours later. Some homes had mudlines about five feet high, marking how far the water rose. The water by that time was receding but still waist-deep in places.
"It's just a lot of water," said Kevin O'Neill, emergency services manager for San Benito County. "Fields that look like lakes. The ground just can't soak it up. Vehicles that are partly submerged, homes have water damage."
Hollister resident Richard Sanchez said he didn't evacuate because he wanted to look after his animals after seeing his yard flood.
"My yard is just an ocean," Sanchez said. "I decided to stay because I have animals. I wasn't being hardheaded. I just wanted to make sure they were safe."
Forecasters said precipitation would continue through Thursday, but the brunt of the back-to-back systems fueled by an "atmospheric river" weather phenomenon had passed after delivering the heaviest rain in a decade to parts of Northern California and Nevada.
The massive rain and snowfall that prompted a rare blizzard warning in parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains is helping much of Northern California recover from a six-year drought. The series of storms has also added 39 billion gallons of water to Lake Tahoe since Jan. 1.
Stormy weather extended north where Portland, Oregon and Southwest Washington were slammed with a surprising foot of snow, unusual for an area that normally sees rain. Crater Lake National Park in Oregon closed Tuesday and into Wednesday with more than 8 feet of snow on the ground.
The staggering snow totals in the Sierra Nevada —up to 11 feet the past week at some ski resorts around Lake Tahoe — was great for easing drought conditions but bad for area ski enthusiasts as road closures and avalanche threats kept most resorts closed for the third day in a row Wednesday.
"In all my years, it's so rare to have too much snow," said Dan Lavely, who moved to Lake Tahoe in 1968 and now lives in Reno. "Having a season pass, you pretty much live for these conditions. You want 2 or 3 feet of fresh powder, and you want to go play in it."
In Southern California, as the latest round of rain tapered off, a 9,000-pound of concrete wall and foundation slid down a rain-soaked, unstable hillside in Los Angeles' Hollywood Hills neighborhood.
It landed on a roadway that had been closed because of concerns about the undermined home. No injuries were reported.
The home, built in 1925, was red-tagged as unsafe to occupy while two neighboring homes were yellow-tagged, meaning residents can stay inside but can't go into their backyards.
A Kern County Sheriff's Office helicopter flying grand jury members over areas affected by flooding spotted an elderly woman in distress and rescued her Tuesday, the office said.
Along the Russian River, north of San Francisco, some residents began to assess the damage.
Lorin Doeleman, 62, said so much water flooded her house in Guerneville that she decided to kayak through it to survey the damage and rescue a treasured bottle of brandy.
"I rescued my brandy," she said, laughing. "You've got to have a little bit of fun with it. I feel grateful: Nobody got hurt, the house can be fixed."
Near Sacramento, a small tornado tore tree limbs and ripped awnings late Tuesday, National Weather Service meteorologist David Rowe said.
No injuries were reported from the twister, which was about 100 yards wide and registered on the low end of the tornado scale.
Some 50 homes were affected in Hollister, about 95 miles south of San Francisco, said O'Neill, the emergency services manager. About 60 residents evacuated on their own. Personnel using boats, Jeeps and firetrucks rescued about 50 people.
It wasn't just people who needed rescuing: Nearly a dozen cows sought refuge on top of a mound of dirt in their pen at a Hollister farm, which was completely flooded.