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Fresno Deputies Rescue 3 Elderly Women Trapped by Rising Floodwaters
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 1 year ago on
March 10, 2023

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Rising water from heavy rains and snowmelt knocked out a culvert that trapped three elderly women, including a 104-year-old, in their Squaw Valley area home until Fresno County sheriff’s deputies could rescue them Friday, Sheriff John Zanoni told reporters.

And it wasn’t the only rescue. CalFire Capt. Dustin Hail said county firefighters used a boat to reach a home in the Wonder Valley area where two adults and two dogs were surrounded on all sides by fast-moving stormwater.

Zanoni re-emphasized the importance of being aware of storm conditions and not waiting until it’s too late to escape rising water. An evacuation order might not come soon enough to help some people, he said.

“If you think that you’re going to get flooded out, if you look around your property, you know your property better than we do, if it looks like, ‘hey, this isn’t going well,’ leave on your own, don’t wait for an evacuation order,” he said. “If you need to leave, leave.”

Unlike the neighboring counties of Madera and Tulare, Fresno County had not yet issued any evacuations orders by 2 p.m. Friday. The evacuation warning that went into effect Tuesday afternoon remained in effect for foothills residents and residents south of Pine Flat Dam along the Kings River region.

Rescue attempts can be complicated by the number of road closures and washouts, Hail said. Several vehicles that tried to cross flooded roadways were washed off the road, he said.

“It’s very easy to lose traction or lose control. And once you get caught up into the tide of the water, you don’t know where it’s going to take you,” Hail said.

Latest Weather Forecast Info

Go to this link to see the latest weather forecast for Fresno.

The California Nevada River Forecast Center is tracking several watersheds and rivers forecasted to be at or near flood stage.

According to state climatologist Michael Anderson, another atmospheric river is already in the forecast for early next week. He added that a third appeared to be taking shape over the Pacific and possibly a fourth.

Reedley College Closes

With floodwaters rising on the nearby Kings River, Reedley College officials decided to close the campus at 1 p.m. Friday.

Spokesman George Takata said officials were concerned about the potential for road closures and also the loss of “critical” utilities.

Officials will continue to monitor conditions and will decide by no later than 4 p.m. Sunday whether to reopen the campus on Monday, he said.

Watching Rivers, Creeks

Because Friday’s storm came in waves of heavier and lighter rain, creek levels were rising and falling accordingly. Mill Creek, which feeds into the Kings River, was flowing at 6,000 to 7,000 cubic feet per second at 6 a.m. but two hours later the flow had peaked at more than 20,000 cubic feet per second, said Paul Nerland, the county’s emergency services director.

Water flowing down the Kings River is coming primarily from uncontrolled creeks and streams, said Terri Mejorado, the emergency manager.

Operators of the Pine Flat Dam had restricted water releases to decrease the impact on the Kings River, she said. The reservoir has the capacity to absorb rain and snowmelt, Mejorado said.

The county continued to monitor on low-lying areas such as the Reedley Mobile Home Park, where many residents had already made the decision to seek higher ground, Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Pursell said.

The sheriff had limited details about the rescues. Two of the three elderly women were in their 80s and were rescued with “emergency equipment,” he said.

Road Closures

The rain-rich storm drenching Central California had flooded some roadways by early Friday morning, and the foothills in eastern Fresno, Madera, and Tulare counties were under flash flood warnings through 11 a.m. Friday.

The National Weather Service extended the flash flood warning for northern Fresno County, including the city of Fresno, and eastern Madera County through 1 p.m. The weather service also issued a flash flood warning for west of Coalinga through 4 p.m.

Fresno County officials briefing reporters at 6 a.m. said the extent of the damage from overnight rains would be more apparent after daybreak, but portions of Highway 180 in eastern Fresno County and Highway 198 in Coalinga were already closed due to roadway flooding.

Highway 180 was closed at Zumwalt Avenue in Reedley, at Elwood Road near Wonder Valley, and eastbound lanes are closed east of Yokuts Valley (formerly Squaw Valley) from Indian Guide Road to Highway 245. Additional road closures on Friday include Trimmer Springs Road, Copper Avenue east of Armstrong Avenue, Peterson Road, Belmont from Fairfax to Lyon, Dudley between Crystal and Hulburt, and Lincoln between Smith and Riverbend.

Residents are urged to call 911 to report flooded roads to the county. The county’s website, FresnoCountyEmergency.com, contains a link to current road closures. Residents also can call the county’s 211 number for answers to questions about storm resources and updates.

The same areas that were the first to flood in the January subtropical storm are flooding now, Pursell said earlier Friday.

Tulare County Evacuations

Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux issued evacuation orders for residents of Three Rivers and Springville in the following locations:

  • In Three Rivers, homes and businesses on North Fork Drive, south of the Baillie Bridge to Sierra Drive (Highway 198); on South Fork Drive, north of Conley Bridge to Sierra Drive; along the Middle Fork, Sierra Drive to the National Park Boundary, including Mineral King Road
  • In Springville, An Evacuation Order has also been issued for the Springville area along the south bank of the Tule River; for the homes and businesses from the Lower Rio Vista east of Bridge Drive to east of Pleasant Oak Drive on Highway 190. This will include all roads, access roads and areas in between. Not included is Pleasant Oak Drive.

Boudreaux also is recommending that residents in the following locations shelter in place: on North Fork Drive, north of the Bailey Bridge; and on South Fork Drive, south of the Connelly Bridge; in the Kern River area, Mountain Highway 99 Johnsondale/Riverkern.

Highway 190 east of Pleasant Oak Drive is closed.

The county has opened temporary evacuation points at the following locations: Dinuba Memorial Hall, 249 S. Alta Ave. in Dinuba, 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.; Porterville College Gym, 100 E. College Ave., 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Stay Alert and Prepared

And even though it appeared to many that the overnight rains were not as ferocious as had been predicted, residents need to stay alert for changing weather conditions.

“When the weather service tells us that this is going to be a historic event, we have to respond accordingly to that. And we are,” Pursell said. “I think that people woke up this morning and saw that everything’s not flooded, so they may be under the impression that everything’s fine, but we just don’t know yet. We’re Day One into potentially 10 days of this.”

Rain is forecast to continue through Friday and into Saturday, with 1.5 to 2 inches falling in Fresno and 6 to 8 inches in Shaver Lake, meteorologist J.P. Kalb said Friday morning.

Fresno’s rain total as of 7:30 a.m. was 0.8 of an inch, Kalb said.

A second subtropic storm is forecast to hit Central California by Monday, bringing additional heavy rain to the region, he said.

Rain falling at higher elevations and melting deep snow had caused the National Weather Service to urge Fresno County officials to prepare for “historic” creek and river levels, and the county took the somewhat unusual step of issuing an evacuation order for all of the foothills on Tuesday. The area was expanded Thursday to include the Kings River region south of Pine Flat to the Tulare County line.

By early Friday morning evacuation orders had not yet been needed, Pursell said.

“We’re probably going to remain in warnings for a while,” he said.

A steady rain slickens Highway 99 north in the Kingsburg/Selma area on Friday, March 10, 2023. (GV Wire/Paul Marshall)

Watch: Kingsburg Storm Scenes

Creeks Still Rising

Dan Lynch, Fresno County’s EMS director, said the flow on Mill Creek feeding into the Kings River was expected to peak this morning between 11 a.m. and noon.

“We’re keeping a real close eye on the Mill Creek, as you know from previous reports, because that’s our wild card in this situation to see how much water is going to hit that Kings River,” he said. “And they’re reporting right now about 7600 cubic feet, which is just a little less than half of where we expect it to be. And so right now, it appears that it’s still on target for peaking between 11 o’clock and 12 noon,” he said.

The river was measured at flowing up to 22,000 cubic feet per second, he said. That level of flow will put pressure on levees and other flood control structures downriver.

Hail said that mountain and foothills residents don’t just have to worry about flooding — if there is snow on top of their homes, the rain will make it heavier and put more pressure on roofs.

“So we really want to make sure that in the higher elevations that people can take care of their roofs and can clear as much as they can, even if they can clear a little bit of the snow off their roofs, that’s going to reduce the weight and the stress it’s going to put on those buildings,” Hail said.

The irrigation canal adjacent to this peach orchard swells with water on Friday, March 10, 2023, about 1 mile east of Kingsburg. (GV Wire/Paul Marshall)

Sandbags Still Available

Fresno County is making sandbags available to county residents at the following locations:

  • Auberry: 33148 Auberry Road (7 a.m.-3 p.m.)
  • Biola area: 12855 West G St. (24 hours)
  • Fresno/Clovis area: 9400 N. Matus Ave. (24 hours)
  • Sanger area: 9525 E. Olive Ave. (24 hours)
  • Caruthers: 2544 W. Mountain View Ave. (24 hours)
  • Fresno: 1730 S. Maple Ave. (24 hours)
  • Dunlap: Public Works Yard, 40315 Dunlap Road (24 hours)
  • Tollhouse: Fresno County Fire Station #75 , 27595 Tollhouse Road (24 hours)
  • Tranquility: Tranquility High School, 6052 Juanche St. (24 hours)
  • Mendota: City Public Works Yard, 1300 Second St. (24 hours)

In addition to California Conservation Corps crews and the National Guard, inmate crews are assisting with sandbagging in the Dunlap area, Hail said.

Inmates also were on hand to assist with filling sandbags in Sanger on Thursday, a resident told GV Wire. More than 25,000 have been filled, Hail said.

County spokeswoman Sonja Dosti said 32,000 bags were distributed to sites over two days this week.

“We’re not concerned about running out,” she said.

Dunlap School Open

Dunlap Elementary School was open for classes Friday morning, but road closures and weather-related concerns prompted some parents to keep their children at home, deputy superintendent Roberto Gutierrez said.

Road closures because of storm damage are impacting mountain communities.

Those children who did get to school were being retrieved by parents who wanted them home again in case there are additional road closures, he said.

Biden Declares State of Emergency in California

President Joe Biden declared an emergency in California on Friday and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal, and local response efforts to the severe winter storms, flooding, landslides, and mudslides.

The president’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, and FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts. Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment, and resources — including funding — to alleviate the impacts of the storms.

Newsom Orders More Capture of Flood Flows

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Nancy Price,
Multimedia Journalist
Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email

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