Thousands in California Ordered to Evacuate Damaged Dam Area

Q: What's happening at Oroville Dam?

California officials say evacuation numbers total around 188,000. That's more people than the populations of Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha and Robins combined. Emergency officials stressed that the dam was structurally sound, Fox 2 reported.

He added that the California National Guard put out a notification to all 23,000 soldiers and airmen to be ready to deploy if needed.

The threat comes not from the dam itself, which the California Department of Water Resources said was not in danger of collapse, but from an emergency spillway that channels excess water.

"At the current time and per the direction of the Yuba County Office of Emergency Services, personnel in need of shelter should proceed to Wheatland High School or the Placer County Fairgrounds", Col. Christopher Stricklin, 9th Reconnaissance Wing vice commander, said in an update Monday afternoon. But people were still being told to stay out of the area.

About 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, Lake Oroville is one of California's largest man-made lakes, and the 770-foot-tall Oroville Dam is the nation's tallest. The heavy flow of water coming over the lip was washing away the dirt on the normally dry side, and officials feared that could eventually undercut the concrete, causing it to fail.

Authorities released 100,000 cubic feet of water per second from the main spillway, bringing down the level of reservoir Sunday, the Sacramento Bee newspaper said, quoting the Department of Water Resources. Cal Fire said engines, helicopters and bulldozers from across the state are headed to Oroville to help.

Federal officials, however, determined that nothing was wrong and the emergency spillway, which can handle 350,000 cubic feet of water per second, "would perform as designed,", according to a July 2006 memo from John Onderdonk, then a senior civil engineer for the federal agency.

Workers first noticed damage to the dam's spillway at around 3pm (11pm GMT) on Sunday.

The primary spillway for the tallest dam in the United States is on the verge of failing. The evacuation order remained in place Monday evening. Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream is ordered.

"We've never been through this before", said Kaysi Levias.

"The police came and told us to evacuate", said Kaysi Levias who was with her husband, Greg, at a gas station as they attempted to flee.

Officials warned residents that the spillway could fail within an hour.

"Team Beale understands the hardships many are enduring during this crisis, and we want to offer all of the aid we can", it said in a Facebook post. "I couldn't risk the lives of thousands of people".

A traffic jam has consequently formed along Highway 99 out of Oroville and Yuba City, and there has been a considerable amount of panic.

This Feb. 11, 2017, photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows the main spillway, bottom, and an auxiliary spillway, upper, of the Oroville Dam at Lake Oroville in Oroville, Calif.

While the people evacuated, the Department of Water Resources took a calculated gamble and increased the flows in the damaged alternate spillway.

  • Leroy Wright