Avalanche stops trains between Sacramento, Reno

Winter stomrs slam western U.S. states

The Latest on winter storms slamming western U.S. states (all times local):

12:30 p.m.

An avalanche has prompted Amtrak officials to suspend passenger rail service between Sacramento and Reno, Nevada after more than more than 4 feet (1.2 metres) of snow fell in the Sierra Nevada. Officials also shut down a 70-mile (112-kilometres) stretch of Interstate 80 from Reno to Colfax, California.

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said Wednesday that service on the California Zephyr rail line has been suspended until weather conditions improve from a series of storm that has dumped rain in Northern California and snow in the mountains that divide the state from Nevada. The storm has also caused heavy snow in Washington state and Montana.

The avalanche sent snow onto the tracks owned by Union Pacific at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at Donner Pass about 10 miles (16 kilometres) west of Truckee, California.

Union Pacific spokesman Tim McMahan says crews are still working to clear the tracks. He says there’s no estimate on when they will reopen.

The region remains under a winter storm warning until 4 a.m. Thursday.

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12 p.m.

A resident of a Northern California town isolated by floodwaters who stayed behind instead of heeding an evacuation order says he and many in the community are well prepared to ride out the storm.

Reached by telephone Wednesday in Guerneville north of San Francisco, Jeff Bridges said Wednesday he is staying on the second-floor of his house because the first floor is swamped by 7 feet (2.1 metres) of water.

He says the town has experienced several floods and people stack up on food and water and hanker down until the water recedes.

Bridges says “everyone just pulls together.”

Bridges co-owns a hotel and says he plans to canoe through the town to assess the damage from the storms that soaked Northern California and also dumped heavy snow in western U.S. states including Nevada, Washington state and Oregon.

Sonoma County Sheriff spokesman Sgt. Spencer Crum estimates that only half of about 4,000 people told to evacuate Guerneville and two dozen other towns actually left their homes.

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10:10 a.m.

Authorities say blowing and drifting snow in eastern Washington state has closed down portions of several state highways, forced schools to close and caused numerous vehicle crashes.

Winds were gusting up to 35 mph (56 kph) and the National Weather Service said Wednesday that the snow would fall through Thursday.

The service says drifting snow was creating problems in an area spanning the Columbia Basin, the western suburbs of Spokane and farming areas south of Spokane.

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9:40 a.m.

An official estimates that only half of about 4,000 people told to evacuate towns north of San Francisco that are flooded or threatened with floods actually left their homes.

Sonoma County Sheriff spokesman Sgt. Spencer Crum said deputies went door to door before the Russian River broke its banks late Tuesday to advise people to leave.

As of Wednesday, the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio were surrounded by the rising water and roads leading into both of them were swamped.

Crum said Wednesday that those who decided to stay stocked up on food and drinking water.

The only way to reach the two communities now is by boat.

Crum says sheriff’s deputies in a boating team are patrolling the flooded areas to prevent looting.

He says four National Guard high-water rescue vehicles are ready to be used if needed.

Deputies have also helped people get out of cars stuck in floodwaters.

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9:35 a.m.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has signed an emergency order meant to help keep up the supply of heating fuel amid the massive snowfall and frigid temperatures affecting the state.

The order signed Wednesday by the Democratic governor suspends rules that restrict working hours for truckers carrying heating fuel.

It cites harsh winter conditions that have resulted in distributors having to travel farther to find fuel sources and deliveries being delayed by poor road conditions.

Truck drivers aren’t allowed to work too many hours in a row and must rest a certain amount of time between shifts. Bullock’s order lifts those restrictions for truckers hauling propane, heating oil and diesel fuel until March 28.

If a driver says he or she needs immediate rest, the “hours of service” requirements must be followed, regardless of the order.

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8 a.m.

An official says a second Northern California community is isolated by floodwaters after a river broke its banks.

Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman tells KTVU-TV all the roads into the town of 1,000 people along the Russian River north of San Francisco are inundated.

Baxman said Wednesday that crews have been rescuing people from cars stuck in flood waters caused by a series of storms hitting states from California to Montana with rain and snow.

Forecasters say the Russian River in Sonoma County topped 32 feet (9.8 metres) Tuesday evening and it that it could crest at more than 46 feet (14 metres) by Wednesday night.

Baxman says the area won’t be in the clear until the river start going back down.

To the east Monte Rio, the small city of Guerneville is also only accessible by boat.

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7:45 a.m.

Officials in rural western Montana are prepared to rescue nearly 50 snowed-in residents if they need help.

But so far, KULR-TV reports that the 46 residents in Cascade County are managing and don’t need assistance.

Capt. Scott Van Dyken of the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office says the people who are stranded live in remote cabins accessible by private roads. Snow drifts as high as 6 feet (1.8 metres) in some areas are trapping people in their homes.

The sheriff’s office has contacted every family to make sure they have a way of calling for emergency help.

Montana residents are digging out from a series of snowstorms that have buried parts of the state this winter.

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6:45 a.m.

Officials say flood waters have inundated a California town north of San Francisco and that the community is now only accessible by boats after a rain-swollen river overflowed its banks.

The Sonoma Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Wednesday that Guerneville is “officially an island” because all roads leading to it are covered by water.

Residents of the town with 4,500 people and two dozen other communities along the Russian River were ordered to evacuate.

The National Weather Service says the Russian River in Sonoma County topped 32 feet (9.8 metres) Tuesday evening and it that it could crest at more than 46 feet (14 metres) by Wednesday night.

The river has repeatedly flooded following heavy rains, but this marks the highest level that its waters have risen in more than two decades.

Several other Northern California creeks and rivers are expected to crest before the storm eases out of the region.

Heavy snow has prompted the closure of several mountain roads in the Sierra Nevada.

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12 a.m.

Thousands of people along a flooded river are under evacuation orders as a relentless storm pounds Northern California with heavy rain and snow.

The town of Guerneville and some two dozen other communities are at risk of flooding from the Russian River north of San Francisco, which hit flood stage Tuesday evening and was expected to peak Wednesday morning at more than 46 feet (14 metres). That’s the highest point in nearly a quarter-century.

No major problems have been reported yet but authorities worry about impassable roads and the chance of mudslides in areas scarred by wildfires.

Flood watches and warnings also remain up throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

In the Sierra Nevada, snow closed some 50 miles (15 metres) of Interstate 80 to the Nevada state line overnight.

The Associated Press

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