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Napa Shops for Rain Gear Under an Ominous Sky

February 19, 1986|MARK A. STEIN | Times Staff Writer

NAPA, Calif. — Only one store was open Tuesday in the quaint brick and Victorian section of this wine-country town of 50,000: an Army surplus outlet selling boots, ponchos and tarps.

"We're the only people in town who sell these boots and things, so we figured we had to be open today," Rachel Friedman, a co-owner of Brewster's Army Navy Store, said.

Water and mud from torrential rainfall of the past several days coated the store's floor an inch-deep. But business was brisk.

"It was coming in from other stores, through windows and doors, even through the concrete--it was incredible," Friedman said of the gooey mess. "Wherever there was the smallest crack in the concrete, water came rushing in and couldn't stop."

Outside, along Coombs Street, most other shopkeepers had simply locked their doors. Only a few had bothered to post the superfluous sign: "Closed Because of Flood."

People wandered around the mud-caked streets swapping stories and enjoying the brief respite that came when the sun made a tantalizing appearance Tuesday morning. But in the afternoon, the skies grew ominously cloudy again, and the nearby Napa River remained menacingly close to overflow.

Downtown, near where the river and rain-swollen Napa Creek course through the city, residents had to navigate through a six-inch film of drab olive ooze that carpeted the town and maneuver around the white plastic and burlap sand bags huddled in the doorways of shops.

National Guard evacuation helicopters droned overhead.

Along the river, weary city maintenance crews worked at clearing scores of old tires, empty oil drums and the lumberyard full of stray pieces of wood that littered the banks. The debris, piled high beneath some bridges, threatened to push more mud-thickened water back onto city streets.

City fire crews on Monday had ordered thousands of residents near the river to evacuate.

By Tuesday afternoon, 378 people had registered to spend the night at the makeshift evacuation center set up at Napa High School.

An estimated 10% of the city's homes were without gas, and even more had no electricity. No serious injuries were reported.

Throughout the day, volunteers worked side by side with crews from the California Conservation Corps to fill sandbags. With burlap in short supply, everything from garbage bags to feed bags and pillow cases were being used.

It seemed all would be needed. The forecast: more heavy rain.

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