Pioneer Cut Off

February 28, 2009


I’m writing this as I sit in front of the Copy Center in the shopping center across the road from Jackson Creek. Fortunately these shops are all high above the street level. I’m thinking about that nice art gallery that the folks from Mexico just put in. Their place is down on the level of the creek and is probably flooded. They’ve just hung a new show. On the radio I hear that they’ve just closed the bridge in Sutter Creek. I don’t know whether this means that the span has been swept away or what. When (or if) we get home, I can look down from the rocks at the edge of the steep slope behind the house and should be able to see what damage has been done.

Water has come across the parking lot behind the civic center in Sutter Creek and has flooded the city records department. I now understand that all of the spare police radios and equipment have been trapped below the water line and are out of commission or ruined. Volcano and Pioneer have been cut off with more than thirty inches of rain above Pioneer last night. Down in Ione they are sandbagging along the river in town and bracing for high water all along the banks down there.

We are eating lunch when we hear the news that Mel and Fay’s restaurant in downtown Jackson has been evacuated because of rock and mud slides on the slopes overhanging the cafe and Safeway.

That night the news comes that the levees have broken and water has crossed the highway going in to Sacramento. Reporters on the television are airborne in every available helicopter as levees begin to fail elsewhere and residents are driven from their homes in the early hours of the morning by walls of cold, dirty flood waters. Some people are missing and presumed drowned.

In the morning, the Channel 31 folks become marooned on a bridge south of Yuba city and watch helplessly as more homes are flooded by water pouring through new breaks in the dike system. By now, the earth is so saturated with water that driving near a levee may cause water to work it way through mud and silt and result in failures. I learn that many of these critical levees don’t have pilings to support them, but are simple earth works.

On the third day of January, the sun has peeked through and although waters continue to rise in the valley, especially south of Sacramento, the high mountain creeks and rivers are beginning to subside. I’m happy to report that our bridge in Sutter Creek has weathered the storm. The Rotary meeting Lydia was to have in Reno has been cancelled due to massive mud slides on all major highways crossing the mountains. The slide on highway fifty is so extensive that the American River flow stops for an hour or so. Everyone holds their breath on this one, as fog has prevented an analysis of this critical situation from the air. News from some ground observers filter in. They believe that a slide over a quarter of a mile wide and hundreds of feet deep has buried or carried away whole sections of route fifty and destroyed an unknown number of structures and homes. On the television, the damage in downtown Reno looks unbelievable. Sacramento has escaped total disaster by mere inches as the flood waters reached to the very top of the big levees in the downtown section.

On a mundane note, Sutter Creek may no longer look like a disaster, but it sure smells like one. The smell of raw sewage is so strong everyone at the Post Office is gagging and holding handkerchiefs over their faces. Raw sewage from the flood is everywhere. How will this mess get cleaned up? Thank goodness we live up on the hill!

About charles frenzel

I've been writing all my life. I've also painted, composed, sculpted, contributed to molecular research, advanced some mathematical concepts, lived on a sailboat, and worked for a Nobel Prize winner. Nothing in my life has pleased me more than to share my life with my wife and friend of over forty years.

View all posts by charles frenzel


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