The Oroville Dam, one of the U.S.’s biggest dams, was not an attraction people were excited to visit this weekend.
Oroville, Calif. Officials forced approximately 140,000 people to leave their homes because of the possibility of the dam’s spillway failing. One of the dam’s emergency spillways, which prevents water from flooding the area, eroded on Feb. 12.
Sheriff Kory Honea said the erosion left him no choice but to evacuate the area. He explained he could not wait to find out if it is OK for people to stay in the area and did not want to risk the potential outcome.
“We need to get people moving quickly and to save lives in case the worst case came to fruition,” he said. “This is a very dynamic situation. This is a situation that could change very, very rapidly.”
The massive amounts of people included in the sudden evacuation caused many traffic blockages on exit routes. State route 70 northbound, Highway 99, an alternate north-south route, and state route 162 suffered traffic jams.
Officials included Oroville, Marysville, and Yuba County residents in the evacuation. Police said a “hazardous situation is developing” with the spillway, potentially causing “uncontrolled release of flood waters from Lake Oroville.”
The spillway’s erosion occurred after the California Department of Water Resources switched to the emergency spillway to take pressure off the regular one. The regular spillway developed a crater last week, which continues growing.
Sheriff Honea is not sure when residents can return home, as he said they must assess the safety of the situation first.
Lake Oroville is one of the state’s largest man-made lakes. Additionally, the 770-foot-tall Oroville Dam is one of the tallest dams in the United States. Because of the lake’s size, it supplies water for agriculture in the Central Valley, as well as residents and businesses in the state’s southern counties.
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