GUERNEVILLE, Calif. — A Northern California man was swept away by floodwaters and died trying to get to his home where three children were trapped, authorities said Thursday, as residents of two communities hundreds of miles to the south were marooned by the worst flooding there in more than 20 years.
The unidentified man was trying to walk from a barn to his home in Ferndale through up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water Wednesday evening when he was carried away by the fast-moving current, said Samantha Karges, a spokeswoman with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.
Two adults and a child tried to rescue the man, but their tractor stalled in the water. Deputies in a boat then rescued them and the three children from the home, Karges said.
The missing man’s body was found Thursday morning. He was the father of a 12-year-old trapped in the home with two children under 4, Karges said. She was not sure if all three children were related.
The low-lying rural area about 215 miles (473 kilometers) north of San Francisco is home to many dairy farms and was flooded when the Eel River went over its banks.
About 150 miles (330 kilometers) to the south in Sonoma County, floodwaters from the Russian River were receding after a two-day storm inundated the area. One National Weather Service station measured 20 inches of rain in 48 hours.
Guerneville and Monte Rio were cut off by the floodwaters that swamped the communities. About 2,000 homes, businesses and other structures were flooded by water up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) deep and about 3,500 people were under evacuation orders.
In addition, two wastewater treatment plants were not working, leading to concerns about sewage spills, said Briana Khan, a Sonoma County spokeswoman.
The Russian River in wine country north of San Francisco crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, Sonoma County officials said. The water was not expected to return to the river’s banks until late Thursday.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that officials received no calls for help overnight Wednesday from hundreds of people who stayed in their homes instead of heeding evacuation orders. No injuries or deaths in the area have been reported from the flooding.
The river frequently floods in rainy weather, but it had not reached this level in more than two decades.
In Guerneville, streets became seas of muddy brown water. Jeff Bridges, a hotel co-owner who is president of the Russian River Chamber of Commerce, spent Wednesday canoeing through town and gave a ride to a couple and their dog who were stranded in a low-lying apartment.
Five people whose homes were flooded were bunking down at his two-bedroom home.
“We saw quite a few fish swimming by my front porch,” he said.
Bridges said this flood was the fourth he’s experienced in 33 years, and the locals took the disaster calmly.
“It’s the price you pay to live in paradise,” he said. “Buffalo, New York, puts up with blizzards. Miami and Houston put up with hurricanes. … We have floods.”
However, Bridges said it will take weeks to clean up his R3 Hotel, as he has done in past floods. More than 8 feet of water inundated the 23-room business.
“Anything that’s been flooded, you’ve got to rip it out, sanitize everything … and rebuild,” he said.
“Everything’s fixable,” he added.