Thousands told to leave their homes near nation’s tallest dam

This image from video provided by the office of Assemblyman Brian Dahle shows water flowing over an emergency spillway of the Oroville Dam in Oroville, Calif., during a helicopter tour by the Butte County Sheriff's office. 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, Oroville, Calif., Feb. 10, 2017 | Photo by Josh F.W. Cook/Office of Assemblyman Brian Dahle via AP; St. George News

OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Thousands of northern Californians were told to leave their homes Sunday evening, as an emergency spillway in the country’s tallest dam was in danger of failing and unleashing uncontrolled flood waters on towns below.

A employee of the Department of Water Resources watches as water flows over the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam. Water started flowing over the spillway at the nation’s tallest dam for the first time Saturday morning after erosion damaged the Northern California dam’s main spillway, Oroville, Calif., Feb. 11, 2017 | Associated Press photo by Rich Pedroncelli, St. George News

Sunday afternoon, the California Department of Water Resources said the emergency spillway of the Oroville Dam in Northern California could fail within an hour, unleashing uncontrolled flood waters from Lake Oroville.

People in downstream areas were told they needed to leave the area immediately.

This was in contrast to reports from officials earlier Sunday, who stressed the dam was structurally sound and said there was no threat to the public.

Residents of Oroville, a town of 16,000 people, should head north toward Chico, the Butte County Sheriff’s office said, and other cities should follow orders from their local law enforcement agencies.

The Yuba County Office of Emergency Services asked residents in the valley floor – including Marysville, a city of 12,000 people – to evacuate and take routes to the east, south or west and avoid traveling north toward Oroville.

The California Department of Water Resources said it is releasing as much as 100,000 cubic feet per second from the main, heavily damaged spillway to try to drain the lake.

E. Knight uses his smartphone to record muddy water rushing down the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam. Water started flowing over the emergency spillway at the nation’s tallest dam for the first time Saturday after erosion damaged the Northern California dam’s main spillway, Oroville, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 | Associated Press photo by Rich Pedroncelli, St. George News

Department Kevin Dossey told the Sacramento Bee the emergency spillway was rated to handle 250,000 cubic feet per second, but it began to show weakness Sunday at a small fraction of that. Flows through the spillway peaked at 12,600 cubic feet per second at 1 a.m. Sunday and were down to 8,000 cubic feet per second by midday.

Water began flowing over the emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam in Northern California on Saturday for the first time in its nearly 50-year history after heavy rainfall.

Unexpected erosion chewed through the main spillway earlier this week, sending chunks of concrete flying and creating a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole that continues growing. Engineers don’t know what caused the cave-in, but Chris Orrock, a spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources, said it appears the dam’s main spillway has stopped crumbling even though it’s being used for water releases.

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 lake is a central piece of California’s government-run water delivery network, supplying water for agriculture in the Central Valley and residents and businesses in Southern California.

Written by The Associated Press

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1 Comment

  • comments February 12, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    ooooooh, thats scary.

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