SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Two Central Valley levees broke Tuesday, flooding a trailer park and inundating farmland south of Sacramento amid soaking rains that forecasters say will pummel Northern California for two more weeks.
"I got a sweater, a top, a pair of pants — only what I had on my back," said Cora Ramirez, who was trapped in her house by rising water and had to be carried out by firefighters. She waited out the flooding at an American Red Cross shelter.
"You see these things in the paper, but you never think it'll happen to you," said the wheelchair-bound Ramirez.
The levees gave out as record-breaking rains continued to pound Northern California, forcing some residents from homes near San Francisco because of the threat of landslides. Authorities were bracing for more rainfall into mid-April.
"The bad news is rain stays in the forecast basically until further notice," said Ryan Walbrun, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service's Monterey office. The weather service was holding regular conference calls with state disaster-management officials in preparation for possible additional evacuations.
Floodwaters breached a 30-foot section of levee along a creek in Merced, sending up to 18 inches of water pouring through a mobile home park, said Michael Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Water Resources. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
About 200 people from three trailer parks were evacuated, said Elaine Post, spokeswoman for the Merced County Office of Emergency Services. About 25 families took refuge in the Red Cross shelter inside a high school cafeteria.
Joe and Karen Hart said their Merced neighborhood was "surrounded" by water, though their house stayed dry. They weren't taking any chances, though, dropping by a sandbag distribution center set up by the California Department of Forestry.
"We're doing what we can," Joe Hart said as he loaded sandbags in his pickup truck. "We don't want to end up like in New Orleans."
At the Golden Wheel trailer park near Merced, floodwaters crept up to doorways. Barbara Cabezut said she awoke to a knock, and found a sheriff's deputy waiting.
"I looked out the door and said 'God, we're flooded,"' Cabezut said as she waited at the Red Cross shelter for the waters to recede. The elderly woman waded through deep water to get to the deputy's truck. By Tuesday afternoon, the Golden Wheel trailer park was effectively cut off from the outside world by road closures.
South of Sacramento, a Consumnes River levee east of Highway 99 gave way, swamping fields but posing no threat to homes, highways or railroad tracks. A levee in the same area broke in January during heavy storms.
With no end in sight for the rains, the levee breaks heightened anxieties here about this region's fragile levee system.
In Washington, D.C., a key Senate spending committee approved $22 million for high-priority levee repair projects on the California Delta. That is a tiny fraction of the $6 billion Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sought earlier this year.
"I think it just shows, again, how important it is for us to concentrate on repairing and fixing our levees," Schwarzenegger said Tuesday.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the money as part of an emergency spending bill for hurricane recovery and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who sits on the committee.
The House version of the legislation does not include the levee money, so even if the full Senate passes the measure, the two houses would have to reach a compromise.
Sacramento had 5.29 inches of rain in March — 2.49 inches more than average, according to the National Weather Service. Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, San Rafael and Santa Rosa all broke rainy-day records last month.
Reservoir operators released water from a variety of dams in the valley, including Friant Dam outside Fresno, to make way for the rainwater.
"We don't have a concern with what the releases are right now," said Gary Barbini, chief hydrologist for flood operations. "It's cumulative and manageable."
In Broadmoor, south of San Francisco, a handful of residents left their homes after a voluntary evacuation order was issued when a hillside above their neighborhood threatened to give way.
And Highway 1 south of San Francisco was closed in three places, including at Devil's Slide, long prone to rockslides.