(KRON) Nearly 200,000 people remained under evacuation orders Monday as California authorities try to fix erosion of the emergency spillway at the nation’s tallest dam that could unleash uncontrolled flood waters if it fails.
About 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, Lake Oroville — one of California’s largest man-made lakes — had water levels so high that an emergency spillway was used Saturday for the first time in almost 50 years.
The evacuation was ordered Sunday afternoon after engineers spotted a hole on the concrete lip of the secondary spillway for the 770-foot-tall Oroville Dam and told authorities that it could fail within the hour.
“I’m just shocked,” said Greg Levias, who was evacuating with his wife, Kaysi, two boys and a dog.
What they couldn’t fit in their trunk they piled as high as they could in their downstairs Yuba City apartment and joined the line of traffic attempting to leave the city where they had moved just three weeks ago.
Panicked and angry residents sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic hours after the evacuation order was given.
Raj Gill was managing a Shell station where anxious motorists got gas and snacks while waiting for gridlocked traffic to clear. His boss told him to close the station and flee himself, but he stayed open to feed a steady line of customers.
“You can’t even move,” he said. “I’m trying to get out of here too. I’m worried about the flooding. I’ve seen the pictures — that’s a lot of water.”
A Red Cross spokeswoman said more than 500 people were at an evacuation center in Chino, California. The shelter had run out of blankets and cots, and a semi-tractor trailer with 1,000 more cots was stuck in the gridlock of traffic fleeing the potential flooding, said Red Cross shelter manager Pam Deditch.
At least 130,000 people asked to evacuate over concerns California’s Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway could fail.
Officials say Oroville Lake levels are decreasing as they let water flow from its heavily damage, main spillway but point out water is still spilling over the dam.
California officials say the cities of Oroville, Gridley, Live Oak, Marysville, Wheat land, Yuba City, Plumas Lake, and Olivehurst are all under evacuation orders.
Thousands evacuated their Northern California homes Sunday evening after authorities warned an emergency spillway in the country’s tallest dam was in danger of failing and unleashing uncontrolled flood waters on towns below.
Hundreds of cars were in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 99 as people hurried away from the Oroville Dam.
The erosion at the head of the emergency spillway threatens to undermine the concrete weir and allow large, uncontrolled releases of water from Lake Oroville, the California Department of Water Resources said. Those potential flows could overwhelm the capacity of downstream channels and levees.