Southland rescue teams cancelled before leaving to help with Oroville dam emergency

On Sunday, as water topped the emergency spillway, officials declared an emergency and ordered an evacuation of the town of Oroville, just miles downstream of the dam. "I couldn't risk the lives of thousands of people".

The focus of their concern is the Oroville Dam, where damage to the main spillway last week has been followed by weakness in an emergency spillway.

The California Department of Water Resources said it was releasing 100,000 cubic feet (2,830 cubic metres) of water per second from the main spillway in an attempt to drain the lake. This is NOT A Drill.

Butte County sheriff's officials said the evacuation of all 578 of the inmates on Sunday afternoon was the first time an evacuation order has been issued at the Butte County Jail.

The barrier is 770-feet (235 meters) high, making it 14 meters taller than the more famous Hoover Dam.

The structure is nearly 50 years old and located upstream from the town of Oroville, which has 16,000 residents. Authorities have already set up an evacuation center at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico.

On Saturday, water levels rose so high it forced officials to use the emergency spillway for the first time. Three local environmental groups filed a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2005 urging federal officials to reinforce the Oroville dam's emergency spillway with concrete, the Mercury News reported.

The hospital is outside the flood zone below the dam on Oroville Lake and sits on a hill. The main spillway is on the bottom and the emergency spillway is above.

The emergency spillway (top half of picture) suffered severe erosion that led authorities to believe it could collapse within hours.

Efforts were under way to release water from the lake and lessen the pressure on the spillways, while also dropping containers of rocks into the damaged areas in order to try to stabilize them. Water levels have since receded slightly.

The chief executive of the Oroville Hospital says it is operating normally but that 100 patients have been moved to the hospital's second floor.

Officials announced shortly before 11 p.m. that the water was no longer topping the damaged spillway.

When asked if the spillway was supposed to handle far more water, Bill Croyle, the acting head of the California Department of Water Resources, said he was "not sure anything went wrong" on the damaged spillway.

  • Arturo Norris