images of 1986 Russian River floodwet El Nino swept in a series of tropical storms, beginning February 13, 1986 leading into a three-day weekend capped by Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day. Two years earlier, workers had completed Warm Springs Dam, which held back the flows of Dry Creek, and created Lake Sonoma. Officials said it spared downstream residents what would have been an additional five vertical feet of flooding. But some say that premature releases from the dam increased the water levels (upper left photo).

Evacuees were offered temporary shelter at the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Guerneville, though it was abandoned when water crept too close. The shelter was then moved to St. Hubert’s Hall off Armstrong Woods Road and then to a higher elevation, St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church.

1986 Flood:

In the ensuing days, small groups would leave for the cemetery above the church where they would be airlifted by helicopter to Santa Rosa (upper right photo). 

Further west, in Monte Rio several diehards waited out the storm.  “Let me tell you, it was creepy to hear your house groan because of the current that’s going through it,” said Tony Moscarelli. “There was a freezer down in the basement, and it was bashing into the walls down there. That was a really creepy feeling.”

Approximately 500 other people had spent nights huddled inside St. Catherine’s Church high above the flood (lower left photo). A few days later people started to return home, not knowing what awaited them (lower right photo). Many lost everything. Several residents were told that the controversial Warm Springs Dam project would prevent deluges and, therefore, did not renew their flood insurance in advance.