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Thousands remain in shelters after California dam evacuation

15 February 2017

"It was the lesser of two evils", state Department of Water Resources spokesman Eric See said Monday. On Monday, officials were able to begin drawing down the lake, but weather forecasts called for heavy rains in the next week. "This was a new, never-having-happened-before event".

Residents faced traffic problems after the evacuation order went out and authorities said they are preparing to handle thousands of people returning. This led to the evacuation of about 200,000 people, and all of them remain away from their homes, filling Sacramento area hotels as well as campgrounds and community centers to the north around Chico.

At the current pace, the DWR hopes to have the lake water level down by 25 feet ahead of Wednesday's rains, which will hopefully put them in good stead to keep from using the emergency spillway again.

The crisis peaked Sunday, when engineers found the pocket of erosion under the emergency spillway - a concrete wall built to permit overflow when Lake Oroville hits capacity.

In the mountainous folds of California lie hundreds of dams that play a vital role in making it America's wealthiest and most populous state.

The hillside was created to handle the "probable maximum flood", and annual dam inspections include a review of the spillway's structural integrity, according to a May 2006 filing by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Tuesday at 9 a.m., the lake's level had dropped to 888.68 feet, about 12 feet below the Oroville Dam's capacity of 901 feet.

A mandatory evacuation order that caused 188,000 to leave has been lifted.

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Environmental groups raised concerns years ago about the stability of the emergency spillway, but state and federal officials dismissed them and insisted the structure was safe, according to records.

The dam's primary spillway developed a 200-foot-long, 20-foot-deep hole last week.

Bill Croyle, the acting director of the Department of Water Resources, told reporters the break in the weather over the last five days has played a major role in the fix effort.

They said soil, rocks and debris could be swept into the Feather River, potentially damaging highway bridges and power plants.

But federal officials determined that nothing was wrong with the emergency spillway, and said it "would perform as designed".

"They are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep the community safe", he said.

The Department of Water Resources will hold a news conference at noon to discuss progress made on repairing the damaged spillway. Officials refused to update that figure Monday.

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 crack is believed to have Local authorities replied with a mass evacuation over three counties in Northern California.