Heavy damage, and some relief, as Russian River flooding peaks in Guerneville


The Russian River was expected to surge Wednesday afternoon to its highest level in a decade, forcing hundreds of people in and around the Sonoma County town of Guerneville to flee to higher ground, often by boat.

But in the wake of several days of rain, there was not only sorrow over the damage but some relief that the river wasn’t as swollen as originally expected.

Scores of homes and businesses in the small communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio, east of Santa Rosa, have been taking in water since the weekend storms, and the toll was expected to grow to roughly 650 houses as the river continued to rise.

The California Nevada River Forecast Center projected that the waterway would crest about 3 p.m. Wednesday at 37.7 feet, a level not seen since New Year’s Day floods battered the area in 2006.

Most of those living and working along the river, well accustomed to flooding, were going through the ritual of moving furniture and other valuables to higher parts of their property or second floors. Sheriff’s deputies and local firefighters were making the rounds to make sure everyone was safe, reporting no major injuries by Wednesday morning.

Mostly, residents said, it was just an all-too familiar inconvenience.

“Our whole lower level is flooded,” said Lorin Doeleman, whose mother lives in the family house on River Road just east of downtown Guerneville. “All the carpet and drywall and everything is toast.”

Doeleman, who lives in Sacramento, as well as other family members from Monte Rio, on Monday began moving furniture in the riverfront room of the Guerneville home to the the higher street side of the house.

On Wednesday, though, they realized that wouldn’t be enough and started carrying things upstairs.

A small boat came in handy for moving some items from the flooded back rooms to the stairwell.

“I kayaked into my kitchen and got my brandy,” Doeleman said. “I’m just trying to have some fun with it.”

The rains, which have let up since Tuesday, have left hillsides water-logged and authorities warning of slides. Seven Guerneville homes were evacuated at the junction of Old Monte Rio Road and Santa Rosa Avenue because of a mudslide.

A respite in the weather will allow river levels to begin falling, dropping below flood stage Thursday evening, according to the River Forecast Center.

“Next week we could be looking at more rain,” said Alan Haynes, acting hydrologist in charge at the center. “If we start to see more storms, there could be more flooding.”

Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: kalexander@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kurtisalexander