Rescuers chest-deep in water steered boats carrying dozens of people, some with babies and pets, from a San Jose neighbourhood inundated by water from an overflowing creek yesterday.
The rescued residents had to be taken to dry land and rinsed with soap and water to prevent them from being sickened by floodwaters that had travelled through engine fuel, garbage, debris and over sewer lines, San Jose Fire Capt. Mitch Matlow said. Only residents who could show they had been cleaned off were allowed to board buses to a shelter for those who were displaced by the floodwaters.
"This is like once-in-a-lifetime," said Bobby Lee, 15, of the water around him. He was rescued with his brother and parents, who took clothes, electronics and some photos from their home in the largely Latino and Vietnamese neighbourhood.
Throughout the neighbourhood, vehicles were submerged. Earlier Tuesday, firefighters rescued five people stranded by flooding at a homeless camp along the same creek in San Jose.
Firefighters were going door-to-door to alert residents because the city does not have sirens or another emergency warning system, San Jose spokesman David Vossbrink said.
"Anybody who is near the creek should be getting ready to leave," he said.
In the San Joaquin Valley in California's agricultural heartland, farmers used their tractors and other heavy equipment to help shore up an endangered levee along the San Joaquin River.
The rains were the latest produced by a series of storms generated by so-called atmospheric rivers that dump massive quantities of Pacific Ocean water on California after carrying it aloft from as far away as Hawaii.
The rains have saturated the once-drought stricken region but have created chaos for residents hit hard by the storms.
The latest downpours swelled waterways to flood levels and left about half the state under flood, wind and snow advisories.
The storm system began to weaken yesterday after dumping more than a half-inch of rain in the San Joaquin Valley, over an inch in San Francisco, and more than 13cms in the mountains above Big Sur over the previous 24 hours, the National Weather Service reported.
Dry weather was expected to return to the region on Wednesday.
In San Jose, the fire department was called to Coyote Creek amid reports of as many as 40 people being stranded at the homeless encampment.
That number turned out to be inaccurate and everyone was located, fire Capt. Mitch Matlow said.
The conditions of the five people rescued were not immediately available.
Some farmers took their tractors and other equipment to the levee to help shore it up. They were there filling it in within 30 minutes of noticing the levee break, said alfalfa farmer Tony Coit.
"The farmers ran it like a boss," said Coit, who described how they used soil from the levee itself to fill in the 10m-wide break until they could truck in large rocks for a more substantial repair.
"It's very serious," county Sheriff Brian Martin said of the potential for flooding. "There's going to be widespread property damage ... our ground's been saturated."
The Carmel River, which has flooded several times in the past month, and the Salinas River were also expected to approach flood levels.
In the Sierra Nevada mountain range, part of one of the main routes to Lake Tahoe was in danger of collapsing after a roadway shoulder gave way following heavy storms, leaving a gaping hole about 12m long and 5m wide, Caltrans engineer Jarrett Woodruff said.
Crews had one lane open as Caltrans workers tried to fix the road failure after numerous mudslides blocked the road for days at a time in recent weeks.
Heavy storms over the last two weeks made parts of the shoulder and part of one lane on the four-lane highway give way.
The water level rose at Lake Oroville for the first time since authorities ordered an emergency evacuation of 188,000 people more than a week ago after a damaged spillway caused major flooding concerns.