| OROVILLE, Calif.
OROVILLE, Calif. Feb 13 Evacuation orders for
nearly 200,000 people living below the tallest dam in the United
States remained in place early on Monday after residents were
abruptly told to flee when a spillway appeared in danger of
Authorities issued the evacuation order on Sunday, saying
that a crumbling emergency spillway on Lake Oroville Dam in
north California could give way and unleash floodwaters onto
rural communities along the Feather River.
"Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville and
areas downstream is ordered," the Butte County sheriff said in a
statement posted on social media.
The California Department of Water Resources said on Twitter
at about 4:30 p.m. PST (0030 GMT Monday) that the spillway next
to the dam was "predicted to fail within the next hour."
Several hours later the situation appeared less dire, as the
damaged spillway remained standing.
The state water resources department said crews using
helicopters would drop rocks to fill a huge gouge, and
authorities were releasing water to lower the lake's level after
weeks of heavy rains in the drought-plagued state.
By 10 p.m., state and local officials said the immediate
danger had passed with water no longer flowing over the eroded
spillway. But they cautioned that the situation remained
"Once you have damage to a structure like that it's
catastrophic," acting Water Resources director Bill Croyle told
reporters. But he stressed "the integrity of the dam is not
impacted" by the damaged spillway.
Asked about the evacuation order, Croyle said "It was a
tough call to make." He added: "It was the right call to make."
'DO NOT TRAVEL NORTH'
Butte County Sheriff Korey Honea told an earlier news
briefing he was told by experts that the hole forming in the
spillway could compromise the structure. Rather than risk
thousands of lives, the decision was made to order evacuations.
Officials said they feared the damaged spillway could
unleash a 30-foot wall of water on Oroville, north of the state
They said evacuation orders remained in place for some
188,000 people in Oroville, Yuba County, Butte County,
Marysville and nearby communities and would be re-evaluated at
The Yuba County Office of Emergency Services urged evacuees
to travel only to the east, south or west. "DO NOT TRAVEL NORTH
TOWARD OROVILLE," the department warned on Twitter.
Evacuation centers were set up at a fairgrounds in Chico,
California, about 20 miles northwest of Oroville, but major
highways leading south out of the area were jammed as residents
fled the flood zone and hotels quickly filled up.
Javier Santiago, 42, fled with his wife, two children and
several friends to the Oroville Dam Visitors Center in a public
park above the dam and the danger zone.
With blankets, pillows and a little food, Santiago said:
"We’re going to sleep in the car."
The Oroville dam is nearly full following winter storms
that brought relief to the state after four years of drought.
Water levels were less than 7 feet (2 meters) from the top of
the dam on Friday.
State authorities and engineers on Thursday began releasing
water from the dam after noticing that large chunks of concrete
were missing from a spillway.
California Governor Jerry Brown asked the Federal Emergency
Management Agency on Friday to declare the area a major disaster
due to flooding and mudslides brought on by the storms.
The earthfill dam is just upstream and east of Oroville, a
city of more than 16,000 people.
At 770 feet (230 meters) high, the structure, built between
1962 and 1968, is the tallest U.S. dam, exceeding the Hoover Dam
by more than 40 feet (12 meters).
(Additional reporting, writing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles
and Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Chris Michaud and