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The river wild! The Feather River has stretched out into a wild and fast-moving waterway with the recent storms. This is a shot of the river from the bridge at A23 last Friday.

Feather River is at major flood stage

The Portola area has been hit hard yet again with the most recent round of storms, with seemingly endless rainstorms covering the area and filling the Feather River beyond capacity.

On Friday, Feb. 10, a slight break in the rain allowed local crews from many agencies to pull their galoshes on and jump into the muddy waters to attempt to curb flooding all along the Feather River, on Highway 70 through Portola.

Television news crews from Fox 11 and Channel 4 out of Reno had been on scene at the Sleepy Pines Motel since early Friday morning, documenting the Eastern Plumas Rural Fire District doing its best to keep the Sleepy Pines Motel from fully flooding.

“There are some rooms with wet floors at this point, but we’re working hard to keep the water pumping out as fast as possible,” EPRFD Chief Bob Frank Jr. commented. “The river is holding steady at major flood stage currently, but the estimates say that the flooding will peak at approximately 3 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 11, so we’re staying on top of things.”

Fire engines were lined up along the side of Highway 70 next to the motel, with pumps running at full capacity.

“We’ve currently got eight lines coming from the trucks pumping out water from Sleepy Pines, at about 2,000 gallons per minute,” Frank said. “The trucks have a capacity to pump 1,500 gallons per minute, so they’re really working hard to keep up.”

The historic Veteran’s Memorial Hall is also under quite a bit of water, with flooding from the river reaching toward Highway 70 from the parking lot.

“I haven’t seen it this bad in years,” one bystander commented as he snapped photos near the hall. “I’ve lived here a long time, and it’s been quite a while since the river has been this high.”

Some homes are being affected as well at the end of South West Street, where the road ends in a wide sweep of rushing water. West End Park is now fully a part of the Feather River, as trees, birdhouses and city council member Phil Oels’ handcrafted benches are trying to break loose of their moorings and join the large clumps of debris and dead trees floating down river.

The Portola Park has also suffered with a thick layer of mud and debris coating open space and rushing water cutting through the creek bed and settling into the open grassy areas near the entrance to Eastern Plumas Health Care and The Station, a local church.

Scott Grendahl of CalFire was situated in the area by the park, with Department of Corrections Antelope crews 2 and 3 from Susanville.

“We’re amazed that the flooding in the park has receded as much as it has since this morning,” Grendahl said. “We’ve diverted water with sandbags and now we’re keeping an eye on things as the day continues.”

Portola Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tom Tobener was also on scene with his crew in front of The Station church on South Gulling, controlling traffic and keeping an eye on the church, where water loads caused major flooding as well as creating break-offs in the lower parking lot and the eruption of a large sinkhole on the side of the church, near the Stations of the Cross.

“It’s been very rough out here,” Tobener said. “PVFD has been here since yesterday, and quite a bit of damage happened overnight.”

At The Station church, locals and church members were rushing to take advantage of the break in the rain, cleaning out the basement area that had serious flooding overnight, on Thursday, Feb. 9.

Volunteer Luke Adam, commented, “There was nearly 4 feet of water in the basement, downstairs at the church. It’s mostly receded now, thankfully, but we generally hold all of our children’s Bible classes and classrooms down here, and we’re not sure when we’ll be able to use it again. It’s in pretty bad shape, but we’re cleaning and salvaging what we can.”

As he spoke, various volunteers carried out armloads of dripping reading material, chairs, paperwork, toys and more.

“We’re all trying to just come together as a community right now and do what we can,” Adam said. “It’s not just church members coming down to help; we’ve got locals just stopping by to see what they can do.”

The Holy Family Catholic Church has offered members of The Station the use of their facility until the weather allows for full repair of the basement at The Station.

As of 2 p.m., Highway 70 had been reduced to one lane on the curve near Sleepy Pines Motel, and Eastern Plumas Rural Fire District continues to pump and keep an eye on the Feather River as it continues to slowly rise.

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