As good weather allowed thousands of northern California flood refugees to return home, crews labored to stem flooding that threatened contamination of the state's drinking water.
All but about 1,000 of the 125,000 Californians evacuated during the floods were believed to have gone home by Monday, said Marylou Schmidt of the state Office of Emergency Services. And in northern Nevada, some 250 evacuees from an American Indian reservation were still homeless.Elsewhere in the West, rivers continued to recede, but authorities worried about mudslides, particularly in Seattle, where 100 slides in the past week have blocked roads and destroyed homes.
At least 29 deaths have been blamed on a series of storms that have hit the region since Dec. 26, including a body found Monday in a house near a levee break in Linda.
In addition, three women are missing, Yuba County Undersheriff Gary Finch said.
"As the water recedes, we'll be able to get down to where we think those people were at," Finch said. "It's still several feet deep."
Emergency crews in California's fertile Central Valley worked to shore up levees to prevent breaks that would flood thousands of acres of wheat fields, orchards and vineyards.
"It's going to be a real nightmare for some of those folks to try and recover and stay in business once those flood waters recede," said Dave Kranz, a California Farm Bureau spokesman.
Even without further damage, the flood of 1997 will probably be the most destructive in California history, Gov. Pete Wilson said. Preliminary damage estimates from nine of the 42 flooded counties already have hit $775 million. In Nevada, Gov. Bob Miller said flood damage there could reach $500 million.
In Meridian, north of Sacramento, the National Guard punched a hole in a levee to relieve water pressure after a break over the weekend forced evacuations.
And more than 300 people, including dozens of inmates, filled sandbags and bulldozed mounds of earth around the town into a new, 6-foot wall nearly a mile long to protect the community.
In Idaho, crews Monday reopened the state's only north-south artery, freeing thousands of people from isolated mountain towns. Repairs to roads and bridges could cost $42 million.