From Pacific Standard– Jose Puente’s boots were on, his slicker ready by the door. It was New Year’s Eve, 1994, and rain was drumming hard and fast on the flat, metal roof of the Hamilton City Fire Hall. Across town the Sacramento River was swelling by an inch an hour in the channel that¬†bends around the rural community¬†90 miles north of California’s state capital. Puente, the town’s fire chief at the time, had already sent firefighters door-to-door to evacuate the community’s nearly 2,000 residents. As midnight approached, he and two volunteers headed out to the J Levee, the only bulwark between the river and Hamilton City. A few minutes later, Puente stood at the edge of the levee and watched as uprooted trees plummeted down the channel toward Sacramento, and waters raged just a few feet from the top of the barrier. Muddy swirls of water boiled out on the riverside of the 13-foot-high earthen berm. If the J Levee broke, Hamilton City would be in the direct path of the flood. (more)