Fears remain after evacuation lifted for 200K Californians
Published 8:13 am Wednesday, February 15, 2017
OROVILLE, Calif. — The stress of evacuation and an uncertain future were enough for Donald Azevedo and his family to opt to stay a few more nights in an emergency shelter rather than risk having to do it all again.
The family was among the nearly 200,000 Californians who live downstream from the country’s tallest dam who were told they could return home but warned they may have to flee again if repairs made to the battered Oroville Dam spillways don’t hold.
The fixes could be put to their first test later this week with the first of a series of small storms forecast for the region expected to reach the area Wednesday night.
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“There is the prospect that we could issue another evacuation order if the situation changes and the risk increases,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Tuesday, telling residents they could return home but to remain vigilant.
That’s why Azevedo wasn’t budging yet.
“My plan is to stay here,” said Azevedo, who evacuated from Marysville with his wife, Tasha, their four Chihuahuas and more than 30 relatives. They spent two nights at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, Calif. and he planned to wait out this week’s upcoming storm before returning home. Many at the shelter said a drive that should have taken one hour took six hours on Sunday.
“I’m not trying to risk traffic, being stuck in floods. I’m safe where I’m at,” Azevedo said.
Many other evacuees, such as Oroville resident Margaret Johnston, couldn’t wait to get back home.
“You don’t appreciate home until it’s taken away from you,” said Johnston, 69, who spent the last two nights sheltering at a church in Chico, California. As she packed the blankets, pillows and clothing she had hastily thrown into a black garbage bag, she reflected on the mad rush to leave, the chaos, confusion and bottleneck traffic on the drive out. “It was just frustrating. Very frustrating.”
Residents living below the Oroville Dam were suddenly ordered to evacuate Sunday afternoon after authorities had assured them for nearly a week that the dam was sound despite a gaping and growing hole found in the structure’s main spillway. The order came after authorities feared an earthen emergency spillway used when the lake behind the dam overflows its capacity appeared ready to fail Sunday because of erosion.
Two days after issuing the evacuation order, officials lifted it Tuesday but uncertainty remained.
Over the weekend, the swollen lake spilled down the unpaved emergency spillway for nearly 40 hours, leaving it badly eroded. The problem occurred six days after engineers discovered a growing hole in the dam’s main concrete spillway.