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Nearly 200,000 evacuated in California as damaged spillways prompt flood fears

Brown

By Steve Bittenbender
Editor, Government Security News

Nearly 200,000 Californians received an emergency evacuation order Sunday evening as a spillway connected to a dam in the northern part of the state threatens to give way.

The Butte County Sheriff’s office issued an emergency order Sunday night calling for people in low-lying areas near Lake Oroville to leave the area immediately. The lake, created by the Oroville Dam, is approximately 75 miles north of Sacramento, the state’s capital.

“This in NOT A Drill. This in NOT A Drill. This in NOT A Drill,” the sheriff’s office posted on its Facebook page.

Residents in nearby Yuba and Sutter counties faced an evacuation order as well.

During the first six weeks of the year, three massive storms hit Northern California. The rainfall connected to those storms flooded the area and caused Lake Oroville to reach capacity. To relieve pressure on the dam, state officials opened the spillway.

Last week, the main spillway showed signs of erosion. That prompted officials to open the emergency spillway on Saturday. However, before the weekend ended, state officials realized the emergency spillway was threatening to fail. Its failure would create flooding problems for nearby Oroville and other surrounding communities.

Gov. Jerry Brown activated the State Operations Center at Sacramento Mather Airport, which is coordinating activities with local, state and federal officials both in Oroville and elsewhere.

“I’ve been in close contact with emergency personnel managing the situation in Oroville throughout the weekend and it’s clear the circumstances are complex and rapidly changing,” Brown said. “I want to thank local and state law enforcement for leading evacuation efforts and doing their part to keep residents safe. The state is directing all necessary personnel and resources to deal with this very serious situation.”

In a press conference Sunday evening, Kevin Lawson, an incident commander with CAL FIRE, said officials increased the release through the main spillway up to 100,000 cubic feet of water per second. That allowed them to close the emergency spillway, as erosion was taking place from the water flowing over its top.

However, both the main and emergency spillways received damage, which officials need to repair in order to release pressure on the dam.

“If that is not addressed and we don’t take care of that and mitigate it properly, essentially what we’re looking at is approximately a 30-foot wall of water that would be coming out of the lake,” Lawson said.

Officials hope to reduce the lake’s level of water by 50 feet.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said that an emergency evacuation in the magnitude of this one, which required 188,000 people to leave their homes and workplaces on short notice, can lead to chaos. However, he noted that there were no signs of looting going on in the county and other communities under the order to leave.

“Based on the reports that I’ve been receiving to this point things have been going fairly well,” he said.

Standing at 770 feet, the Oroville Dam is the tallest in the United States. Lake Oroville is the state’s second-largest man-made lake.

Built by the state over a seven-year period, the dam opened in May 1968. It generates electricity and provides water supplies to both the San Joaquin Valley and parts of coastal Southern California.

 

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