Oroville dam: Evacuation ends as officials drain enough water to avert catastrophe

The evacuation order, effective Sunday afternoon for some 180,000 people, was prompted by fear of possible failure of the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam, the tallest in the United States with an earthfill embankment of 770 feet (230 meters) high on the Feather River east of the city of Oroville.

"I'm just shocked", said Greg Levias, who was evacuating with his wife, Kaysi, two boys and a dog.

"There is still a lot of unknowns", Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said at a news conference.

Orrock says he doesn't know exactly how low the water level will get, and there's always a possibility they could need to use the (also damaged) emergency spillway again, but they are doing everything they can to prevent that.

The idea is to lower the reservoir's water level enough that it can accept runoff from the upcoming storms without reaching capacity.

Chaos ensued as anxious residents rushed to pack up their families and abandon several communities in Butte, Yuba and Sutter counties. Following recent precipitation events, which had filled the lake nearly to bursting, the main spillway was being used to let water run off over the weekend, when a growing hole in the concrete made it nearly unusable.

You can help people affected by disasters like floods and countless other crises by making a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief at redcross.org, or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

The Oroville Dam spillway releases 100,000 cubic feet of water per second down the main spillway in Oroville, California, on Monday. On Tuesday, engineers raced to drain the rain-swollen reservoir and dropped sacks of rocks into holes in the spillway in hopes of stabilizing it.

Lake Oroville, the emergency spillway, and the damaged main spillway are seen from the air on February 13, 2017, in Oroville, California. Overflow in the spillway began Saturday morning and the erosion appeared to be spreading upward toward the structure. But Croyle said at that no fix work was done after officials looked at the flow and available resources. About 96 percent of those dams have emergency action plans, significantly higher than the national rate of 69 percent.

The surge in rainfall has wreaked havoc on the Oroville dam, which was already experiencing problems with damaged spillways. Fixing the main spillway could cost as much as $200 million, said Bill Croyle, acting director of the state Department of Water Resources, AP reported.

With more rain coming and a massive snow pack piling up, the state's reservoirs and dams are being pushed to the limit.

  • Larry Hoffman