Residents, Industry Analysts Evaluating Western Storm Damage

January 8, 2008

While it’s too soon to tally insured loss estimates, Nevada residents who fled nearly 300 homes flooded when a canal’s earthen bank collapsed are returning to their homes where they will face damage left by the wave of frigid water that surged through the town.

The northern Nevada desert town was hard-hit by a West Coast storm system that piled up to 11 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains and toppled nearly 500 miles of power lines in California over the weekend.

At least 11 deaths were blamed on the huge storm, and nine people were missing in snow-covered mountains.

About 97,000 homes and businesses in Northern California and the Central Valley were still without power Monday, down from more than 215,000 earlier Sunday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Angus Barkhuff said some parts of Northern California would get a reprieve from the rain and snow on Monday, But in the mountains, “there’s a chance of snow and snow showers all the way through Thursday,” he said.

According to Boston-based catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, the winter storm — at times producing hurricane-force winds — flooded towns, downed power lines, and dropped extraordinary amounts of snow from Washington to Southern California. The Sierra Mountains near Lake Tahoe were hardest hit with massive amounts of snow in a 72-hour period. Nearby, at Ward Mountain, the highest winds were recorded on Friday — sustained at 110 mph, gusting up to 163 mph.

On Saturday, a levee on a rain-swollen canal ruptured in Fernley, Nev. — one of the fastest-growing cities in the state. Eight hundred homes were affected, while 290 suffered severe flood-related damage. Dozens of Fernley residents had to be rescued by helicopter and boat. Elsewhere in Nevada, hundreds of homes sat in up to 8 feet of floodwater by the end of the weekend.

In California, heavy wind and rain cut power to millions of homes and businesses, closing major roads and canceling flights at several airports. As of Sunday, more than 215,000 people remained without electricity in northern parts of the state. Many of these residents remain without power today after the storm ripped down nearly 500 miles of power lines and damaged 500 utility poles. In the snowy Sierra foothills, repair crews from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) will have to employ snowshoes, all-terrain vehicles and helicopters to restore power.

In Southern California, high winds blew scaffolding off buildings in San Francisco and temporarily shut down the city’s main highway. Alcatraz Island, the former prison, was closed to visitors and on the Golden Gate Bridge winds reached 55 mph, preventing safe passage for trucks. Feared mudslides in areas burned by the October fires did not materialize.

According to AIR, the storm was unlike classic Pacific Northwest winter storms, which tend to concentrate damaging winds along the coasts of Washington and Oregon. The track of this large system was fairly unusual in that some of the strongest winds and heaviest snows were over the northern half of California. The company said its research team is still evaluating the damage, and may have an insured loss estimate as early as Wednesday.

While precipitation has slowed throughout the region, as much as 3 feet of additional snow could hit high elevations of the Sierras by Tuesday evening, according to the National Weather Service.

Sources: Air Worldwide, Associatd Press

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