SAN FRANCISCO — Storms that claimed at least seven lives in Northern California eased off Wednesday and the forecast was for some sunny weather ahead, but levees along the Sacramento River Delta--threatened by a collapsed dam--were straining to contain rivers swollen by a week of torrential rains.
In Yuba City and Marysville, authorities considered evacuating all nonambulatory patients from hospitals as the Feather River was only six inches from topping its levees.
Despite the threat in Sacramento County, a state Office of Emergency Services spokesman said Wednesday afternoon that the levee system containing the nearly full Sacramento and American rivers was "holding up just fine."
Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Bill Prout said the next 24 hours would be "quite critical." He said the levees in the delta were built "a long time ago" and in some cases, the materials would not meet modern standards.
But Devere Davis of the state Flood Control Center said, "We don't have any levees that have failed. We have some that we're watching very closely. The water is higher than we've ever seen before in the American River."
National Weather Service forecasters predicted some rain in the north for the next several days, but they did not expect anything like the storms that dumped upward of 18 inches of rain on parts of Napa and Sonoma counties last weekend.
In fact, the weather service said in a special statement Wednesday afternoon: "There are signs in the heavens and on the weather charts that the deluge is coming to an end for soggy Northern and Central California."
Satellite pictures, the forecasters said, were showing "a relatively cloud-free stretch of ocean to the west."
And, they added, a bulge of high pressure was beginning to develop offshore, which should shield the area from advancing storm systems.
Although light morning rain sprinkled many parts of Orange County Wednesday, there was little evidence of the weekend's wild storms. Lifeguards and Harbor Patrol officers at Huntington Beach and Newport Beach reported no major weather-related problems.
In Huntington Beach, the surf was "stormy" but didn't hinder surfers, Claude Panis, a lifeguard spokesman said. With the exception of very light sprinkles in the early morning hours, the only sign of storms past and future were beach debris and late afternoon clouds, he added.
In Santa Ana, where it was mostly cloudy Wednesday, the 24-hour low was 52 degrees, the high 67 degrees and .15 of an inch of rain fell in the period ending at 3:30 p.m.
And in Newport Beach, an Orange County Harbor Patrol spokesman said: "It's real nice. The National Weather Service is calling for small craft advisories, but the skies are clear. We haven't really had any problems in the last couple of days." In the 24-hour period ending at 3:30 p.m., the low was 57, the high 64 and .18 of an inch of rain fell.
The weather picture in the rest of Southern California also began to brighten with the apparent fading of chances that yet another front would bring more heavy rain Wednesday night and this morning. Although National Weather Service forecasters at midday Wednesday were predicting .25 to .50 of inch of rain in coastal sections from the new front, they revised that by early afternoon to call for merely cloudy skies and "a chance of rain" this morning.
It should be partly cloudy through Friday with highs in the 60s, forecasters said. And the weekend should be partly cloudy with humid and temperatures in the 60s and 70s, slightly above normal.
Although things were looking up all through the state, Gov. George Deukmejian on Wednesday proclaimed that states of emergency existed in nine more Northern California counties because of the prolonged rainstorms that turned streams into rampaging rivers and hillsides into oozing death traps.
The counties added to the list so that the state can apply for such federal aid as low-interest loans and temporary housing were Glenn, Lake, Marin, Modoc, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Yuba.
On Tuesday, the governor had proclaimed emergency states in Humboldt, Napa and Sonoma Counties.
Deukmejian visited the evacuation center in Santa Rosa, where he was briefed on how the state and local agencies were responding to the problems and the needs of evacuees. He flew over much of the flood-stricken area.
Damage estimates mounted throughout Northern California. While the main freeway reopened between the Sierras, Sacramento and San Francisco, Interstate 5 south of Sacramento was shut because of flooding on the Mukelumn River.
North of San Francisco, in hard-hit Sonoma, squadrons of Air National Guard troop-carrying and rescue helicopters plucked another 300 people from a sodden, battered mountain. After landing on dry ground, the evacuees were taken in school and city buses to an evacuation center in downtown Sonoma.