More than 500 Calif. inmates evacuated due to dam flooding dangers

Feb 15, 2017, 00:11
More than 500 Calif. inmates evacuated due to dam flooding dangers

Unless the erosion of the spillway is dealt with, "what we're looking at is approximately a 30-foot wall of water", Kevin Lawson, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said at a press conference that night.

Thousands of residents who rushed to evacuate their homes in Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties now sit in evacuation centers, hotels and motor homes across Northern California and wait. But they cautioned that the situation remained unpredictable. Engineers don't know what caused the cave-in, but a Department of Water Resources spokesman told the Associated Press it appears the dam's main spillway has stopped crumbling even though it's being used for water releases.

The damage occurred even though the spillway was created to handle much more water than the amount that overflowed.

The threat from the spillway became clear on Sunday, when officials suddenly issued an evacuation order for the town of Oroville with just one hours' notice.

Officials are working to fix a severely damaged spillway below the country's tallest dam, which holds back California's largest water reservoir.

They are trying to sure up the emergency spillway and decrease water levels at Oroville Dam before Thursday's expected rainfall.

More than 500 Butte County jail inmates were transferred to Alameda County Jail farther south, Honea said.

The primary spillway, which technicians use to release water from Lake Oroville into the Feather River as the lake's water level rises, has a concrete bottom that has had a "gaping hole" in its floor since February 7, officials said. That would put the lake level a little more than 40 feet below the top of the spillway, and provide some wiggle room for the level to increase during the next round of storms. Lake Oroville is the main reservoir of California's State Water Project, which supplies water for more than half the state's 39 million residents and for millions of acres of farmland in the leading agricultural state. He requested an emergency declaration in the states affected by the disaster. Managers slowed the release of the water, and on Saturday, Oroville overflowed.

In 2005, at the beginning of the dam's relicensing process, environmental groups asked the feds to require that the California Department of Water Resources "armor" the hillside to prevent erosion from water escaping when the reservoir was beyond capacity. "This was a new, never-happened-before event".

With blankets, pillows and a little food, Mr. Santiago said: "We're going to sleep in the auto".

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