Torrents of mud and water raced through the streets of Sonora Friday night, a result of too much rain too fast and not enough drainage capabilities to handle it.
The flash flood ripped through stores in the Sonora Plaza, Mono Way, and South Washington streets leaving a thick coating of gooey mud and debris in its wake.
Sonora City Fire Chief Mike Barrows says the water had nowhere to go. “There was water coming down on all the major streets,” Barrows said late Friday night. “Washington and Stewart streets both became drainages.”
Businesses along South Washington Street and in the Sonora Plaza were hit very hard by the flash flood. Barrows said at one point there was at least a foot of water rushing down Mono Way towards South Washington Street.
A relentless downpour late Friday afternoon into early evening brought more water than storm drains could handle.
Sonora Police ask people to stay out of the downtown areas to allow emergency personnel and public works and Caltrans crews to get in and start the clean up.
Mono Way at the Sanguinetti loop was under several feet of brown water. The CHP set up a roadblock on each side of the flooded roadway.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for western Tuolumne County last night. Those warnings remained in effect until 3 a.m. Saturday. Still the raising water took a lot of people by surprise.
Restano Way Liquor store owner Sonny Raj said he was helping customers when the water first started coming into his store around 8:30 last night.
“I thought it was going to be little, but it got to six-inches high,” Raj said emptying buckets of brown water mopped from his floor. “It started going inside the store then inside the walk-in coolers. Everything that was on the floor got in the flood.”
As Sonora veterinarian Jeff Wittman surveyed the several inches of red mud and water covering the floor of his pet supply store in the Sonora Plaza Shopping Center, he was angry and shocked.
“This has never happened before,” he said. “It was like a river.” The wall of mud washed off the hillside above the line of stores, under back doors and swirled around the buildings. Wittman pointed to the new hospital construction work for part of the problem.
Sonora Blue Print owner Brian Selby´s jeans were wet with mud stains nearly to his knees. He had waded into the flood waters to try and block the back door from the mud, to no avail.
He said a large chest freezer floated past him in the deep waters as he tried to seal off the door crack.
Sierra Steamway Restorations´ Dale Woodward tried to vacuum the silt-filled water of a Sonora Plaza business floor as quickly as possible to try and minimize damage.
“I’ll be very busy,” he said. “I got three calls in 5 minutes tonight. I know I get a ton more tomorrow (Saturday).”
Sonora and Tuolumne County emergency officials will be touring the area affected by last night’s flood starting at 9 a.m. Saturday morning.