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Massive floods have struck California every 200 years or so, according to analysis of sediment deposits left by the torrents in four widely separated locations. Different dating methods used at the sediment sites have varying margins of error, but the midpoints align fairly well. If the pattern holds, the state could be due for another catastrophe; the most recent megaflood was in 1861, and it left Sacramento underwater for six months (photograph).

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DAVID JOSLYN COLLECTION/CENTER FOR SACRAMENTO HISTORY

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