1,300 Reno homes evacuated in flooding along Sierra - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

1,300 Reno homes evacuated in flooding along Sierra

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A "closed" sign stands at the entrance of an ice rink at the Half Dome Village of Yosemite National Park, CA, on Saturday, Jan 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian) A "closed" sign stands at the entrance of an ice rink at the Half Dome Village of Yosemite National Park, CA, on Saturday, Jan 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — More than 1,000 homes were evacuated in northern Nevada, and stranded motorists were pulled from cars stuck on flooded Northern California roads as thunderstorms arrived Sunday as part of a massive winter storm that could be the biggest to slam the region in more than a decade.

Crews in California cleared trees and debris following mudslides caused by steady rain accompanying the system that could dump 15 inches in the foothills of the Sierra and heavy snow on the mountain tops before it's expected to move east on Monday.

In Nevada, emergency officials voluntarily evacuated a total of 1,300 homes in a south Reno neighborhood Sunday afternoon as the Truckee River began to leave its banks and drainage ditches started to overflow south of U.S. Interstate 80.

No injuries had been reported, but high waters forced the closure of numerous area roads, a series of bridges in downtown Reno and a pair of Interstate 80 off-ramps in neighboring Sparks, where the worst flooding is expected to send several feet of water early Monday into an industrial area where 25,000 people work.

Bob Elsen of Sparks said he saw plenty of wet weather in his former hometown of Bremerton, Washington, but he didn't expect it in Nevada's high desert where only 8 inches of precipitation falls annually on average.

"I don't think I've seen this much rain since I moved here six years ago," Elsen said as he watched the Truckee River's waters rise Sunday in Sparks. "It's why I moved out of Washington to get away from this stuff."

An avalanche also closed a portion of the Mount Rose Highway connecting Reno to Lake Tahoe for the second time in three days after more than 6 feet of snow fell atop the Sierra last week.

Authorities say they expect Reno-Tahoe International Airport to remain open. But schools were ordered closed Monday throughout the Reno-Sparks area, and Gov. Brian Sandoval — who declared a state of emergency on Saturday — told all non-essential state employees to stay home Monday.

'All first responders are all hands on deck," Washoe County Emergency Manager Aaron Kenneston told reporters at a briefing in Reno Sunday afternoon.

Bob Leighton, the Reno Fire Department's chief of emergency operations, called it "a very dynamic situation that's happening so fast it's hard to keep up with the road closures."

The storm surge stretching all the way from Hawaii — called an atmospheric river — comes as California enters its sixth year of drought. Each drop of rain is welcomed, but officials said several more big storms are needed to replenish depleted groundwater supplies.

Relatively mild temperatures were driving up the snowline to above 9,000 feet throughout the Sierra Nevada, causing runoff in the lower elevations. Forecasters said Sunday it was tracking pretty much as they expected.

"For forecasters who've been here a decade or more, this is one of the most impressive atmospheric setups that we have seen in a long time for potential flooding in the region," said Chris Smallcomb, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Reno. "If you had to write a textbook on how to get a flood in the region, you would use a scenario just like this."

Tents stand empty at Half Dome Village in Yosemite National Park, after being evacuated ahead of possible flooding of the Merced River (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

In California, authorities reported rescues in Marin and Sonoma counties, including an operation along U.S. 101 where several people were plucked from submerged vehicles. No injuries were reported.

Authorities were watching rising water levels of several Northern California rivers, including the Cosumnes, Truckee, American and Russian. Officials urged residents to avoid driving through standing water and to stay off rural roads, where rescues could be difficult.

All roads leading to Yosemite National Park's valley floor remained closed amid fears that the Merced River could overflow its banks and cause major flooding.

"It's kind of surreal how empty the park is. There's nobody here," said Gary Kazanjian, a freelance photographer who spent the night in Yosemite and drove out Sunday as part of a caravan of stragglers.

Forecasters also warned of strong winds. A woman was killed Saturday by a falling tree on a San Francisco Bay Area golf course. Firefighters on Sunday rescued a man pinned under a toppled tree in Golden Gate Park. The homeless man had minor injuries and was taken to a hospital to be checked.

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Sonner reported from Sparks, Nevada. Associated Press writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed.


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