At least 130,000 people were asked to evacuate in Northern California after authorities warned an emergency spillway in the country’s tallest dam was in danger of failing Sunday and unleashing uncontrolled flood waters on towns below.
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 evacuation was ordered Sunday afternoon over concerns the dam’s emergency spillway could fail. Over five hours later, hundreds of cars carrying panicked and angry people were sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
“The police came and told us to evacuate,” said Kaysi Levias who was with her husband, Greg, at a gas station as they attempted to flee.
Officials warned residents that the spillway could fail within an hour.
“I’m just shocked,” Greg Levias said. “Pretty mad.”
“Not giving us more warning,” said Kaysi, finishing his sentence.
“We’ve never been through this before,” said Kaysi Levias. “We have
two boys and our dog. All the stuff we could fit in the trunk — clothes and blankets.”
What they couldn’t fit 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.
The cities of Oroville, Gridley, Live Oak, Marysville, Wheat land, Yuba City, Plumas Lake, and Olivehurst were all under evacuation orders.
The evacuation order went out around 4 p.m. after engineers spotted a hole that was eroding back toward the top of the spillway.
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 Feather River and other downstream waterways, channels and levees.
Officials say Oroville Lake levels had decreased by Sunday night as they let water flow from its heavily damaged main spillway but noted that water was still spilling over the dam…