Massive waves, power outages plague California coastal community amid storms

Aftermath of storms in California

By Kate Fishman

MENDOCINO, Calif. (Reuters) – Harbormaster Anna Neumann dashed from vessel to vessel, business to business at the port she manages near the mouth of northern California’s Noyo River, ensuring all was secure as storms bringing waves as high as a three-story building pummeled the state.

“You prep as much as you can, and then you just wait for whatever unknown issue that you didn’t prep for to happen, and then you respond,” Neumann said as she surveyed Noyo Harbor in the small fishing and tourism city of Fort Bragg.

Rain continued to fall throughout the state on Thursday, straining already swollen rivers and flood control systems from the coast to inland farmlands. In Sacramento County, southeast of Fort Bragg’s Mendocino County, crews used any pauses in the rain to work to repair levees south of the state capital that had been breached by the first of several anticipated waves of storms that began on New Year’s Eve, leading to flooding that killed at least three people.

In the popular seaside village of Mendocino just south of Noyo Harbor, Big River Beach was unrecognizable under heaps of debris including trees that had been ripped from the ground by winds of up to 50 miles per hour. Foamy water ponded on the sand, and the briny smell of the ocean was more pungent than usual.

Waves overnight in the area reached 33 feet, and winds reached 50 miles per hour. Waves of up to 30 feet were predicted for Thursday.

At the southern end of Mendocino county, the small towns of Point Arena and Gualala have been largely without power for around 24 hours. About 2,500 households and businesses were without power in the county, which is home to about 91,000 people.

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California’s storied coast road, Highway 1, is closed in four places in Mendocino County because of fallen trees, the California Department of Transportation said. Fog, flooding and rock slides contributed to closures along the highway in other parts of the state.

No fishing boats were set to go out Thursday morning from Noyo Harbor, where small recreational boats and large commercial vessels have slips, and crab, rockfish and salmon are among the typical catches.

The high tide brought swells that washed debris across the beach and its parking lot, the high waves crashing into the mouth of the Noyo River.

Professional urchin diver Grant Downie, one of several gathered to check out the high water, said he’d moved his boat out of the harbor ahead of the storm just to be safe.

It was insured, he said, but he’d rather risk its being hit by a falling tree than sinking in the wild water.

(Reporting by Kate Fishman; additional reporting and writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Donna Bryson and Leslie Adler)