30 Years After the Flood

What do you remember from the worst disaster in the Marin?

There is much debate in the Ross Valley about what exactly constitutes The Big Flood. The flood of 1924 was the among the worst and the floods of 1943 and ’52 both dumped more than six inches of rain on the valley. Of course, the is the most recent in memory.

But, for long-time residents, the flood of 1982 is the worst in recent memory. And, that disaster celebrated its 30th anniversary yesterday, Jan. 4.

According to newspaper reports at the time, although San Anselmo was particularly hard hit, the disaster swept through the county.

“At least 3 die; scores hurt” read the Jan. 5, 1982 headline in The Marin Independent Journal.

Rain over a number of days dumped over ten inches on Marin in the last two weeks of December. Blocks of cold and warm air collided on Jan. 3 causing seven inches of rain to pour on Marin, followed by another six inches on Jan. 4. The rain-saturated ground just couldn’t take anymore.

According to The Independent Journal, over 2,000 people spent the night in emergency shelters. A slide under the Waldo Tunnel crushed three cars and closed the highway. The Golden Gate Bridge was also closed at the peak of the storm, stranding thousands of commuters. Three people were also killed in mud slides and storm-related casualties, including a woman in San Anselmo who had a seizure and drowned in a puddle of water. The county suffered nearly $30 million in damages.

See the map of casualties and problems at right.

Mary Rathbun, the owner of , remembers when the ’82 flood wiped out her store.

“It was a little worse than ’05. Either that or we were better trained [in 2005],” said Rathbun.

At 7 a.m. on Jan. 4, 1982, Rathbun came down to her store and was still able to walk on the sidewalk into the shop to move some of the items sitting close to the floor. By the time she left, the water had risen so high she couldn’t walk back out. Rathbun’s husband was forced to carry her piggy-back through the rising water.

By 2 p.m., the water had risen so high she could see items floating around inside the windows.

Pictures of people kayaking down San Anselmo Avenue can be seen at right.

After the flood waters receded by that evening, the disaster wasn’t over. It took weeks for emergency and volunteer crews to clean up, repair damages houses and roads, and restore businesses and town services. It took Rathbun three weeks to remove everything from the store, clean the floor and walls and items, and put it all back.

It didn’t take her long to get flood insurance either.

Though the store was also wiped out when the 2005 flood came, which primarily targeted San Anselmo while much of the rest of the county remained unscathed, Rathbun has never thought about moving.

“It’s a San Anselmo store,” she said.

What do you remember from the storm?


Shirl January 05, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Leaning out my second story window trying to signal to the cars approaching the water to stop and go back. Everytime they would sit for a few moments and then plunge in and the car would float down the street and around the corner out of sight. Then another would come and do the same. They either didn't see me or didn't heed my warning. Later that day people were out in row boats on The Alameda. The cars finally stopped coming. I think it finally sunk in how serious the situation was.
Sierra Salin January 05, 2012 at 06:51 PM
I drove back with a friend after spending the night in S.F. It was raining pretty solidly... with water pooling on the freeway. This was sometime in the morning. As we got off 101, S.F. Drake by Bon Air was flooded to the car floorboards with lots of stalled cars. By the time we got to the hub we realized that something odd and unusual was happening. There were sheets of water covering the hub. This was 3 or 4 hours before the high water mark..... Later, I was on San Anselmo Ave, a little towards Fairfax, near the quick Stop N Go carrying everything upstairs at a friends house, until the water crested and rushed over Center Blvd, spilling onto S.A. Ave. I walked from there down the street and I stood at the front door to the stop n go, with water swirling up above me waist, as items inside were floating around the store. I watched all kinds of things, branches, trees, household and yard items rush by, in front of what is now the fire station. At one point a couple kayakers ran the downtown rapids... My friend Alan, had a jewelry shop in the middle of S.A. Ave. He has said he threw all his tools into trashcans filled with water, to preserve them until they could be dried out properly. Overall it was a total mess, AND, It also brought the communities together and folks worked together to help one another out. Distinctions and differences were forgotten, and the whole community was much stronger for it. A lot of people shined brightly.
John Ferguson January 05, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Yeah, that looks like a real mess. This is why we need flood control measures.
Jeremy McLane January 06, 2012 at 02:15 AM
I remember the 2005 flood It was a rainy night and when i woke up my dad had asked if i wanted to walk downtown with him. Later my entire family went, and the streets were covered in mud with puddles everywhere. For a bit we helped clean up, but then we walked back home. I also remember other times when it hasnt flooded, but been like 1 foot from flooding.


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