January 4, 1996
SAN JOAQUIN VALLLEY FLOODS ASby Staff Journalists, The Daily Republican Newspaper
FEDERAL DAMS FAIL TO HOLD BACK RUNOFF
FRESNO - The capacity of Friant Dam and Millerton Lake were reached and exceeded on Friday. At 10:00 A.M. the Dam is regulated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The Dam's flood gates were opened to allow more than 96,000 FPS to spill into the narrow San Joaquin River Channel, onto farm lands, and residential areas downstream from the site.
The overspill filling the lake to capacity. The Friant Dam was spilling the overflow into the San Joaquin River main channel. However, agricultural irrigation canals which have the capacity to handle a great portion of the overflow remained unused.
The down-stream effect was immediately evident. The Friant Bridge roadway were almost immediately swept away. Several houses in and a State Fish hatchery were engulfed in the raging food waters rising into the town area streets.
Further up-stream in the Sierra Nevada Officials at Yosemite National Park today ordered a helicopter evacuation of 2,200 tourists and employees stranded by flood waters of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley and adjacent housing areas outside the Park in El Portal.
The evacuation, using Marine helicopters, was expected to take two to three days, said Chet Brooks, a spokesman for Yosemite Concession Services. Officials hoped to get 500 people out of the area today, he said.
All major roadways into the area were closed after the Merced River was driven over its banks by a series of storms that flooded much of Northern California.
Ironically, some of those stranded at the Ahwahnee Hotel were people who won a drawing two years ago for tickets to a traditional New Year's Eve celebration at the Ahwahnee Hotel.
Ahwahnee Hotel spokesperson, Carol Nystrom, said being stranded wasn't so bad for the 230 people at the luxurious hotel, many of whom spent time playing monopoly and reading yesterday's newspapers.
Further downstream, the flood tide of the Merced River stranded nearly 700 Park visitors at Yosemite Lodge. On the Southern shore of the Merced River there ware nearly 120 Park visitors hold-up inside the dry portions of Curry Village.
Wendy Harrell,a Park resident said 'The river was so fast that the water makes a booming noise like thunder!'
Yosemite was closed last Spring as the Merced River crested at about 12 feet an isolating Yosemite visitors for several days.
Howard Hobbs, Ph.D., NPS Ranger Naturalist (retired) told the Daily Republican 'The 1955 Yosemite flood was the worst flood in Yosemite Valley in modern history. The 1955 flood resulted when the Merced River crested at 16 feet. It's force swept away several historic buildings in the Old Village together with Galen Clark's cabin.'