FERNLEY, Nev. (AP) – Maureen Tabata and her husband woke up Saturday to find water surrounding their home. When it started pouring in, there was nothing they could do to stop it.

“We did our best to block the water but it came rushing in through the doors and garage. The force of the water knocked over the TV,” Tabata said.

Tabata, her husband and more than a dozen others in this town about 30 miles east of Reno had to be rescued by boat and helicopter after a chunk of an earthen levee up to 150 feet long was washed away by a rain-swollen canal.

The flood covered about a square mile and temporarily stranded as many as 3,500 people before receding. An estimated 1,500 ended up being displaced from their homes, Lyon County Fire Chief Scott Huntley said Saturday night. No injuries were reported.

“All of our furniture, carpet – everything is destroyed. It’s just unbelievable,” Tabata said. “It’s all muddy. I never thought I’d experience anything like this in Nevada. It’s like if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, because everything is destroyed.”

The break came as the third storm in as many days pummeled the West Coast, raising a threat of mud slides and flooding in California, blacking out thousands of customers, causing at least two deaths and blanketing the Sierra Nevada with deep snow.

In Fernley, Huntley, one of the first on the scene, described it as a “wall of water about 2 feet high going down Farm District Road.”

“In some places folks had to deal with 8 feet of water,” he said. “Firefighters were in chest-deep water making rescues.”

Two helicopters aided rescue crews in pontoons in rescuing at least 18 people from driveways and rooftops. Local residents in fishing boats rescued many more.

“It was like our house was dropped in the middle of the river,” said Eric Cornett, who estimated the water was about 2 feet deep and rising fast when he drove away from his home with his wife and three children.

“Garbage cans and pieces of wood were floating down the street,” he said. “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. The water was freezing. I couldn’t even feel my feet.”

By afternoon, the Truckee River water flowing into the canal was diverted upstream, said Ernie Schank, president of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District. Fernley Mayor Todd Cutler said he had reports of damage to at least 300 to 400 homes.

Schank suggested burrowing rodents may have contributed to the break in the levee along with the heavy rains, but the cause wasn’t clear.

“We have to look at the weather as the culprit right now, but we are not sure of that,” Huntley said.

The National Weather Service recorded 1.91 inches of rain at Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Friday, a record. Reno averages only 8 inches of rainfall annually and Fernley only about 5 inches.

Gov. Jim Gibbons, who visited the shelter and toured the area by helicopter on Saturday, declared the county an emergency area. Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to conduct a damage assessment on Monday.

In California, more than 450,000 homes and businesses from the San Francisco Bay area to the Central Valley were without power Saturday, down from more than 1.6 million Friday, according to Pacific Gas & Electric and other regional utility providers.

Additional rain and snow is expected to blanket Northern California through Thursday.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared emergencies in three counties hit hard by the storms.

In the Sierra foothills where many had been without power for more than 24 hours, some hunkered down for the long haul while others packed up and left town ahead of the third storm.

“We’re definitely roughing it up here,” said Kevin Harris, who lost power Friday in his home in Gold Run, about 60 miles east of Sacramento. “We went shopping earlier – food, water, soda, pizza, toilet paper, first-aid kit, and gasoline for the generator.”

Along the southern rim of Lake Tahoe, the snow was still falling Saturday afternoon at Heavenly Mountain Resort, which had received about 4 feet by Saturday afternoon, said resort spokesman Russ Pecoraro.

Forecasters expected as much as 9 feet of snow on the mountain range by Sunday night.

“If you take the wind gusts, the snowfall and all of it together, it’s definitely one of the biggest storms we’ve experienced in a number of years,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Scott McGuire.

An 80-mile stretch of U.S. Interstate 80 from Reno to Applegate, Calif., was closed Saturday night as the fresh wave of snow moved in.

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.

U.S. 50 in California from Pollack Pines to Meyers also was shut down because of the risk of avalanche.

East of Los Angeles, a 25-year-old woman died after her pickup truck was swept into a flood channel. Rescuers found her 36-year-old boyfriend clinging to a tree.

Authorities said the couple unwittingly drove onto a flooded road in Chino because someone removed a barricade.

A transportation worker in Northern California also died after he was struck by a falling branch on Friday, and a woman was killed by a falling tree in Oregon.

About 3,000 people in four canyons were stripped by wildfires and susceptible to mudslides had been told to leave their homes by 7 p.m. Friday, Orange County fire Capt. Mike Blawn said. However, there was no indication how many obeyed, and mandatory evacuation orders were later lifted.

In Southern California’s Modjeska Canyon, part of a wildfire burn area, the rain left a thick coating of mud on roads but the area seemed otherwise unscathed Saturday.

Gene Corona, 72, worked in hip boots and a raincoat as he used a shovel to repair erosion in a channel he had dug to carry water away from his home.

“I made the rounds last night, every hour on the hour, whenever stuff started breaking through,” he said. “I saved my house. It’s my home, and insurance doesn’t cover mudslides.”



Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus in Orange County, Elliot Spagat in San Diego County, Don Thompson in Gold Run, Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco, Scott Sooner in Reno, Aaron C. Davis in Sacramento and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

AP-ES-01-05-08 2143EST


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