Mother Nature walloped the Valley again Tuesday into Wednesday, dumping a record amount of rain on Fresno, breaching levees and flooding roads throughout the region.
In the tiny northern Tulare County community of Seville, floodwaters inundated the local elementary school and five homes, forcing at least two families to flee. Four homes in Seville are unlivable because of water damage, the Tulare County Fire Department said.
Christopher Kemper, superintendent and principal of Stone Corral Elementary School in Seville, came to school about 8 a.m. to find six classrooms and the administration office flooded.
"This whole area looked like the Nile River or the Amazon," Kemper said. "It did so much damage in a short amount of time."
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He and community volunteers went room to room and got boxes, papers and other objects off the floor until the flooding outside receded. As of late afternoon, crews had removed water from the rooms, which must be dried to keep mold from growing in carpets, Kemper said.
Meanwhile, east of Visalia, water broke through a levee holding back the Yokohl River, flooding dozens of orange groves and causing road closures.
Northeast of Clovis, Highway 168 between Shepherd and Academy avenues was closed for several hours early Wednesday morning because of flooding. And in Madera County, county officials closed Road 36 between Avenues 9 and 12 due to a road failure.
The Valley should get a break from the rain, at least for a couple of days, as a cold front brings mostly clear skies and near freezing temperatures to the region. Daytime highs in Fresno will reach the mid-40s today. Morning lows could dip to 32 degrees or lower today and Friday, and patchy fog could settle over some Valley areas, according to the National Weather Service.
Another storm is expected to arrive Saturday and could bring one-quarter to one-third of an inch of rain to Fresno, the weather service said.
A record for Fresno
The storm swept into Central California on Tuesday evening, and by 4 p.m. Wednesday it had dropped 1.54 inches of rain on Fresno, according to weather service records. Through midnight Tuesday, 0.92 of an inch fell -- a record for the date, the weather service said.
The storm dropped 1.24 inches on Visalia and 0.76 of an inch on Merced. Oakhurst recorded 3.26 inches, and Three Rivers had 2.63 inches.
Since July 1, Fresno has received 8.16 inches of rain -- more than twice the average for this time of year. Last year, Fresno had received just 3.96 inches.
The rain has slowed central San Joaquin Valley citrus growers, who have picked oranges sporadically over the past 10 days because of wet and muddy conditions. So far, about 15% of the state's navel oranges have been harvested.
Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said the wet weather has pinched supplies of oranges to export markets in Japan and South Korea. Last year, California exported about 30% of its orange crop.
"We have really lost some export opportunities right now, so we are anxious for things to dry out," Nelsen said.
One bright spot for orange growers is the expected colder temperatures today and Friday.
Nelsen said the oranges need colder night time temperatures to help toughen the fruit.
The rain kept Fresno road maintenance crews busy but not overwhelmed, city officials said. Crews dealt with minor flooding in parts of the city, but were able to keep drain pipes clear and avoid major problems.
"Given all the rainfall we got, we fared pretty well," said Patrick Wiemiller, Fresno's public works director.
The recent rains have been steady storms, rather than "high intensity" downpours, allowing draining systems to handle the volume of water, said Bob Van Wyk, general manager for the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District.
Ponding basins filling
Still, Fresno ponding basins are near capacity, and flood officials are pumping water out to allow them to capture more water from approaching storms and avoid flooding, officials said.
Water from the district's 150 basins is being pumped to adjacent canals. The water then will flow to the Herndon Canal and into the San Joaquin River.
In Madera County, road crews were pumping water from a storm pond at Georgia Avenue, south of Avenue 13, onto nearby farmland to alleviate potential flooding. In addition, a levee at Avenue 181/2 and Road 181/2 failed, closing the roads, according to the Madera County Sheriff's Department.
Some of the worst flooding, though, was in Tulare County.
In Seville, George Locano, 27, woke up Wednesday morning and could hear his father walking though water in the living room. The family put up sandbags and swept out at least an inch of water from the tile-floor living room, he said.
"It took three hours," Locano said.
Across the street on Avenue 384, a rental home that flooded forced the two families sharing it to leave. The Red Cross is putting them up in a motel in Visalia for three days, said Yajahira Lobato of Seville, whose cousin lived in the home.
The damage to both the house and the families' possessions "was really bad," Lobato said. The home can't be lived in, and the two families must find a new place to rent, she said.
South of Woodlake, the sight of the overflowing Yokohl River caused people to stop and stare.
"It's not uncommon for the water to go over the road," said Tom Pinkham of Exeter as the river overwhelmed Road 304, "but not this high."