Updated 11:43 a.m.
(AP) — Floodwaters that turned two Northern California communities into islands began receding Thursday as a rain-engorged river finally peaked after swamping thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings.
The Russian River in the wine country north of San Francisco reached about 46 feet Wednesday night, its highest level in 25 years. The water is not expected to return to the river's banks until late Thursday.
The river frequently floods in rainy weather but it had not reached that level for 25 years and wasn't expected to recede again until late Thursday night. The estimated 2,000 buildings inundated by floodwaters were mainly in and around the community of Guerneville, said Briana Khan, a Sonoma County spokeswoman.
"Guerneville has essentially become an island," Khan said. The nearby town of Monte Rio also was isolated when roads leading to it were swamped.
The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office said in a statement Thursday that officials received no calls for help overnight from hundreds of people who stayed in their homes instead of heeding evacuation orders.
The river was one of several in Northern California that was engorged by days of rain from western U.S. storms that also dumped heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada, throughout the Pacific Northwest and into Montana, where Gov. Steve Bullock signed an emergency order to help keep up the supply of heating fuel amid frigid temperatures.
No injuries were reported in the Guerneville area and by Wednesday night the rain had eased but about 3,500 people in two dozen river communities remained under evacuation orders.
In addition, two sewage treatment plants were not working, leading to concerns about potential sewage spills, she added.
Elsewhere in the western U.S., two Amtrak trains together carrying nearly 300 passengers stopped and reversed directions because of an avalanche that closed railroad tracks in the Sierra Nevada and shut down service between Sacramento and Reno, Nevada.
In Idaho, the mountain town of Stanley became marooned Wednesday after all three highways leading to the town were closed because of drifting snow, avalanches and the risk of more slides.
Several areas in California set record-high rainfall totals, including nearby Santa Rosa, which had nearly 8 inches of rain in one day. The often-waterlogged Venado weather station 5 miles from Guerneville recorded more than 20 inches of rain in 48 hours.
Dozens of people were rescued from cars that became stranded Tuesday and early Wednesday after drivers tried to cross flooded roads.
Nina Sheehan, who is visiting from North Carolina, had to abandon her rental SUV after it got stuck in a flooded hotel parking lot.
"We made a decision to take the rental car through the waist-high water and we got two thirds of the way and then the car stalled," she said.
Rhondell Rasmus had pulled to the side of a road too flooded to cross in Sebastopol in Sonoma County late Tuesday night and emergency dispatchers told her to wait for help. But just before dawn, she awoke to find the car was nearly submerged and she was out of gas.
"The water just came up so fast next to my car, it was crazy," she told the Press-Democrat newspaper of Santa Rosa.
She wound up in an emergency shelter, bringing with her a handbag, a backpack and a pair of rain boots.
About 200 miles north of Guerneville in Humboldt County, authorities say a man drowned in floodwaters trying to get to his home, where three children were trapped.
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office says in a statement Thursday that deputies were sent Wednesday night to the house in Ferndale.
The statement says the man was trying to walk to his home from a barn through up to 5 feet of water when he was carried away by the fast-moving current.
Authorities found his body Thursday. His name has not been made public.
The office says three people tried to reach the man by driving a tractor through the floodwaters but the tractor stalled and they couldn't get to him in time.
It says deputies in a boat rescued the three people from the tractor and the children from the home.
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 the day 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, but added nonchalantly: "Everything's fixable."
In the Sierra Nevada, snow has led to road closures and the suspension of Amtrak service between Reno and Sacramento.
Passenger train service is unlikely to resume until at least Friday, railway officials said Wednesday.
Service on Amtrak's California Zephyr was suspended Tuesday after an avalanche in the mountains west of Truckee, California, where more than 4 feet of snow has fallen over the last two days, with winds gusting up to 114 mph.
Two Amtrak trains together carrying nearly 300 passengers stopped and backed down the mountain in both directions on Tuesday and early Wednesday following the avalanche near Donner Pass just south of where I-80 tops the Sierra.
The pass is named after the infamous Donner Party that became stranded nearby and resorted to cannibalism in the 1840s. Amtrak housed passengers free of charge at Reno hotels Tuesday night and planned to do the same Wednesday.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said westbound travelers on the route from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area in Emeryville, California would be housed Wednesday night when they arrive in Reno. They'll ride charter buses to Sacramento Thursday and board a train to Emeryville. He said similar transfers are likely on Friday.
Eastbound travelers from Emeryville will transfer to charter buses in Sacramento bound for Reno, where they'll board a Chicago-bound train, he said.
Eastbound Interstate 80 reopened to passenger vehicles only on Thursday in the Sierra, while westbound Interstate 80 is now open to all vehicles, including big rigs.
I-80 WB has reopened to ALL motorists including big rigs. EB remains open to passenger vehicles only at the moment.— Caltrans District 3 (@CaltransDist3) February 28, 2019
R-2 chain controls from Nyack to Truckee. pic.twitter.com/rQBPAH2eGR
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.
Capital Public Radio staff contributed to this report.
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