As predicted, Mother Nature delivered last week with rockslides, widespread flooding and phone and power outages. Scanner traffic highlighted the quick action of Caltrans and Plumas County’s Public Works Department, as well as that of emergency first responders, as they moved from location to location trying to keep the roads open and areas safe from flooding. With several events occurring simultaneously, they divided manpower and equipment to address as many as issues as possible.
While some localized situations were quickly resolved, the county’s main thoroughfares didn’t fare nearly as well. Highway 70 through the Feather River Canyon closed, as did Highway 89 on both sides of Greenville, and in Clio. The California Highway Patrol fielded multiple calls from residents trying to figure out which way they could get home or, conversely, leave the county. Some people were just trapped and unable to reach their residences.
By Saturday the skies had cleared and the water began to subside, though many areas were still isolated and homes remained under water. In a second floor conference at the county’s courthouse annex, a who’s who of county officials gathered around the table and were available by phone to discuss the damage and next steps. One by one, from the California Highway Patrol, to sheriff’s personnel, to public works and health care officials, information was updated. County residents should be reassured that their leaders were prepared for this event.
Sheriff Greg Hagwood is also the county’s emergency services director. As weather reports became increasingly alarming, he called for additional resources. The state sent a National Guard helicopter and a team from the Office of Emergency Services. When the helicopter arrived late Friday morning, Hagwood told this newspaper that its use would be twofold: to help assess damage and to provide medical evacuations. Even Hagwood couldn’t have known how soon his vision would be realized.
A couple of hours later Hagwood was aboard the helicopter, along with Mike Grant, who heads the county’s Search and Rescue team, and National Guard personnel assessing damage in Indian Valley. That’s when a Taylorsville man became trapped on the Arlington Bridge. Sheriff’s deputies on the ground watched as the man tried to exit his truck only to be swept away in the water. They radioed for help and the helicopter was on the scene. A guardsman lowered himself and rescued the man who was clinging to a willow branch. The helicopter then transferred the man to a waiting ambulance.
It was impressive to watch the group gathered Saturday. Each member contributed what he or she could to the dialog, conducting business in an efficient, professional manner, but with an easy camaraderie that comes from working together. They shared the common goal of doing whatever they possibly could to protect county residents — whether that be clearing culverts, delivering sandbags or directing traffic. For example, CHP and Caltrans kept Highway 70 just west of Portola open around the clock by staying on scene, keeping a valuable artery open. Local hospital personnel also worked together to ensure that ambulance service was available throughout the county. As an example, Plumas District Hospital stationed an ambulance in Graeagle when it appeared that Highway 70 would close, which would have left those residents without service.
As this newspaper was going to press, another storm threatened. Officials were taking advantage of the break in weather, to prepare as much as possible for the next wave of precipitation. While sometimes preparations aren’t enough to outmaneuver Mother Nature, it’s nice to know that they’re doing everything that they can to protect residents’ lives and property.