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LOS ANGELES, 13 Feb 2017:
Evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people living below the tallest dam in the US remained in place early today after residents were abruptly told to flee when a spillway appeared in danger of collapse.
Residents below the tallest dam – near Oroville in Northern California – were ordered to evacuate immediately yesterday after authorities said an auxiliary spillway was in danger of imminent collapse.
“Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream is ordered,” the Butte County sheriff said in a statement posted on social media.
“This is NOT A Drill. This is NOT A Drill. This is NOT A Drill.”
The California Department of Water Resources said on Twitter at about 4:30pm PST (8.30am Monday Malaysian time) that the spillway was “predicted to fail within the next hour.”
The Yuba County Office of Emergency Services urged evacuees to travel only to the east, south or west.
“DO NOT TRAVEL NORTH TOWARD OROVILLE,” the department said on Twitter.
Several hours later, the situation appeared less dire as the damaged spillway remained standing.
The state water resources department said crews using helicopters would drop rocks to fill a huge gouge, and authorities were releasing water to lower the lake’s level after weeks of heavy rains in the drought-plagued state.
By 10pm, state and local officials said the immediate danger had passed with water no longer flowing over the eroded spillway. But they cautioned that the situation remained unpredictable.
“Once you have damage to a structure like that it’s catastrophic,” said Acting Water Resources director Bill Croyle. But he stressed “the integrity of the dam is not impacted” by the damaged spillway.
Asked about the evacuation order, Croyle said “It was a tough call to make.” He added: “It was the right call to make.”
State authorities and engineers on Thursday began carefully releasing water from the Lake Oroville Dam some 105km north of Sacramento after noticing that large chunks of concrete were missing from a spillway.
Water levels were less than 7 feet (2m) from the top of the dam on Friday as levels in the reservoir rose because of a California winter of heavy rain and snow that followed several years of severe drought in the state.
California Governor Jerry Brown asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday to declare a major disaster due to flooding and mudslides brought on by the storms.
The earthfill dam is just upstream and east of Oroville, a city of more than 16,260 people.
At 230m high, the structure, built between 1962 and 1968, is the tallest dam in the US – besting the famed Hoover Dam by more than 12m.