Thursday 27 April 2017

Race to repair California dam as 200,000 told to evacuate

Staff with the California Department of Water Resources watch as water is released from the Lake Oroville Dam. Photo: Getty
Staff with the California Department of Water Resources watch as water is released from the Lake Oroville Dam. Photo: Getty

David Lawler

Officials in California were scrambling yesterday to lower water levels behind America's tallest dam after 200,000 people were evacuated ahead of storms expected later in the week.

Erosion left an enormous crevasse in the spillway of the Oroville Dam, some 200km north of San Francisco on Lake Oroville, with residents warned that a 30ft high "wall of water" could be unleashed with little warning.

Authorities ordered those living below the lake to evacuate on Sunday evening, after the hole was discovered. It was 200ft long and 30ft deep at the time, and continuing to expand.

The worst-case scenario was that the dam's emergency spillway would fail, and water would begin roaring downstream. The earthen spillway had never previously been used, and began to erode as well.

The water level dropped yesterday, but rains expected tomorrow and Thursday could exacerbate the danger.

Kimberly and Patrick Cummings evacuated to a local Red Cross centre with their three-year-old daughter.

"We grabbed our dog and headed to higher ground - away from the river," Ms Cummings said.

"You can't take a chance with the baby," Mr Cummings said.

Raj Gill, manager of a Shell station where anxious motorists purchased petrol and snacks, said his boss told him to close and flee, but he stayed open to feed a steady line of customers. "You can't even move," he said. "I'm trying to get out of here too. I've seen the pictures - that's a lot of water."

About 250 police officers stood watch near the dam and along evacuation routes, managing the exodus and trying to prevent any looting. The California National Guard was told to be prepared to deploy. Officials said they had not yet determined what caused the cave-in at the dam.

Kory Honea, the Butte County sheriff, was waiting for word on whether residents would soon be able to return. "We need to give the Department of Water Resources time to fully evaluate the situation so we can decide whether it is safe to repopulate the area," he said.

Until recently the area was experiencing severe drought, but snow and rainfall in recent weeks have far surpassed historical averages.

Bill Croyle, director of the department of water resources, said it would not be possible to fix the hole in the main spillway immediately. "You don't throw a little bit of rock in it," he said. (Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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