Russian River rises to 45 feet, turning California town into an island

The Russian River near Guerneville, California, is shown on Tuesday. It continued to rise. By Steve Almasy and Jay Croft, CNN

(CNN) -- Rain is diminishing Thursday around the Northern California town of Guerneville, which was turned into an island after the Russian River rose to more than 45 feet.

The river crested at 45.31 feet Wednesday night, Sonoma County Emergency Operations Center spokesman Barry Dugan said. It had been rising steadily from 9 feet on Monday, leaving the community of 4,500 residents isolated.

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On Thursday morning, flood warnings continued for much of Northern California, where rain was finally letting up. Most rivers and streams remained above flood stage. A flood warning means flooding is imminent or occurring; a watch indicates potential for flooding based on forecasts.

The Russian River, at its highest level since the late 1990s, was falling but still expected to be above flood stage until Friday morning. After that it's expected to fall back below flood stage at Guerneville, according to CNN Meteorologist Judson Jones.

Generally dry weather was expected for the area late Thursday and into Friday afternoon, Jones said. But more rainfall was expected Friday night and Saturday, with another wet system possible by next Tuesday.

Getting around town in kayaks and canoes

In Guerneville, their homes surrounded by floodwaters, residents have been moving around in kayaks and canoes.

"The roadways leading into the town along the river and across the river have been cut off by the rising floodwaters," Sonoma County Emergency Manager Chris Godley said.

Dugan said roughly 2,000 homes and buildings have flooded to some degree. Fifty-nine people so far have been rescued, and there are no reported injuries.

Eighty-nine roads remain closed in the county. Officials said they are in the planning stages to allow people to re-enter as early as Friday, Dugan said.

Stunned residents marveled at the rising waters Wednesday, raising cell phones with one arm and snapping photos.

"It is incredibly flooded. It is really nuts. You see just the rooftops popping over on the side of the road," county employee Joe Pease told CNN affiliate KGO. He delivered sandbags to firefighters but had to stop because of deep water.

Aerial video from the San Francisco TV station showed people paddling through Guerneville in canoes and kayaks. On some roads, water had reached the windows of cars, and on one street, it was up to the rooflines of a few buildings.

Locals seek state emergency declaration

The river was 13 feet above flood stage by Wednesday evening, and county officials issued an emergency declaration.

They have asked Gov. Gavin Newsom for a state of emergency to help local authorities.

"(The proclamation) is not just a sign that we have insufficient resources or we're overwhelmed, but instead that we recognize the true potential worst-case scenario here," Godley said, "and we want to make sure that we're mobilized effectively and fully to deal with that threat."

Zak Wood, who lives in Forestville, about a mile from the river, said, "I have lived here in this area for the last 10 years, and this is the highest I have ever seen it."

The record river height is 49.5 feet.

Sonoma County residents were told Tuesday night to evacuate.

Flooding affects other towns in the area

Not every road in Guerneville was under water -- a few were still passable but lined with cars and trucks from owners seeking higher ground.

KGO reported that one hotel popular with wine enthusiasts had been evacuated.

The town was hit hard by the flooding but was not the only one.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office tweeted a photo of a road in Monte Rio deluged by water.

"Please heed evacuation orders," the tweet said.

About 20 miles upriver, musician Garrett Pierce posted a video Wednesday of the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge. Water rushes under the truss bridge, close to the spans. The video shows some breaks in the clouds.

With more rain forecast later, a flood warning was in effect for parts of the area, the weather service said.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the rise in the river.

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