BREAKING: Threat of Oroville spillway collapse prompts evacuation of Marysville, Yuba, Butte and Sutter counties



A nightmare traffic jam developed as thousands of residents fled from Marysville Sunday night Tony Bizjak

By Ryan Sabalow and Sam Stanton

Yuba City resident: ‘I think this panic is unnecessary.’

8:10 p.m.: Darlene Tulumello, 52, an unemployed legal secretary in Yuba City, was parked at the gas station with her husband and two cats, trying to figure out where to go.

Just an hour before, she said, they had been doing their grocery shopping when the store announced that it was closing.

Tulumello said they might head to Colusa, though she wasn’t feeling the same sense of urgency to get out of town as the miles of cars backed up on the freeway. Just yesterday, she added, she had been thinking about sticking around at home.

“I think this panic is unnecessary,” Tulumello said. “You might as well sit back, have a beer and let fate take its course.”

State water officials will hold press conference at 9 p.m. with next update

California Department of Water Resources announced that it will provide another update at 9 p.m. The press confernce will air on Periscope.

Chico evacuation center is full; additional shelter open at Neighborhood Church

Butte County announced at 7:40 p.m. that the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds evacuation center is full. Another shelter is available at the Neighborhood Church in Chico, 2801 Notre Dame Blvd.

Sacramento hotels filling with evacuees

Evacuees are reserving hotel rooms along Hwy. 99 and Interstate 5 in Sacramento near the airport. The Homewood Suites by Hilton started getting calls around 6 p.m., said Front Desk Agent Gao Hang. Twenty reservations were made within the hour in back-to-back phone calls.

“They didn’t care about the price at all because they just need a place to go,” she said. “It’s not just us.”

Two neighboring hotels are filling up as well, she said. The Homewood Suites is about 75 percent reserved so far.

Lake levels down, but risk remains

7:15 p.m.

Oroville Lake depths are decreasing rapidly as officials release a huge amount of water from its main spillway.

Lake levels have fallen about one-half a foot in the last two hours and stand at 901.35 feet, about four-tenths of a foot above the level where water flows through the emergency spillway, state figures show.

At that pace, water should stop spilling over the emergency spillway within several hours, giving officials a chance to more fully assess erosion.

Falling depths do not mean the areas below the dam are safe. The emergency spillway is essentially part of the dam and the concern is that it will fail, something that could happen even if water stops flowing over its top.

Oroville dam emergency spillway

Oroville Dam inundation area

Evacuations are widespread

More than 160,000 people in evacuation area

More than 162,000 residents in Butte, Sutter and Yuba counties were affected by Sunday night’s evacuation orders, census figures show.

Butte sheriff: Situation improving

State Department of Water Resources told Butte County Sheriff Kony Honea shortly after 6 p.m. that “the erosion that caused all this concern was not advancing as rapidly as they thought.”

“That’s a very good thing,” he said.

Watch: Drone flies over auxiliary spillway at Lake Oroville

The Department of Water Resources released a video shot by a drone over the Oroville Dam. Water is seen running over the emergency spillway as well as the main spillway.
Department of Water Resources

There is a plan currently in place which would hopefully plug that hole, Honea said, including using helicopters dropping bags of rock into the crevasse to prevent any further erosion.

He said two inches of water is still coming over the dam, which “is significantly down” from earlier flows.

“That has helped reduce the level of the lake,” he said. “It’s hopefully going to reduce the pressure on that alternative, emergency spillway and stabilize the situation so we can find a repair and hopefully prevent it from complete failure.”

Meanwhile, officials say they’ve mobilized swift-water rescue teams to be ready should they need to rescue people in floodwaters below the dam.

Horse boarding, RV space offered

Sacramento businessman and former congressman Doug Ose is offering to help board horses for people affected by the evacuation.

“Gibson Ranch in northern Sacto County can accommodate 25 horses and RVs/campers/tents 916-806-3110,” Ose tweeted.

Residents scared

Some evacuees in Marysville say their mood is bordering on panic.

Erin English of Linda said she got a robo-call a few minutes ago telling her to evacuate and get to higher ground.

She immediately called 911 and dispatchers there at first told her to go to Chico, then changed their mind saying that she might not make it there before water came through.

Instead they told her to go to the Colusa Casino.

She was getting gas in South Marysville with her husband and two children and her dogs. They didn’t have time, she said, to grab anything from their home.

“I’m scared to death. I’ve never been through anything like this before,” she said. “I pray for the safety of everybody here.”

Kevin Carroll of Marysville said he’s dubious about the evacuation order, but he is obeying.

He lives on the banks of the Feather River and says the river is not high and could handle a lot more water.

Nevertheless he said the evacuation order is mandatory so he and his wife are gathering up some clothes and the dogs and heading out.

“My wife said go,” he said. “The river is right on our back door.”

He doesn’t expect Marysville to flood though.

“I’m not saying it won’t,” he said. “There’s a lot of room in that river right now.

“It can save lives or be a waste of time,” he said. “I hope for the best for the evacuees. Be safe.”
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Evacuees jam Marysville gas stations

Concerned citizens in Marysville, California are not waiting around to see what happens with the Oroville Dam spillway, but are gathering their families within minutes, loading up the car and flooding local gas stations as the prepare to leave town.
Tony Bizjak The Sacramento Bee

Expert says spillway failure could be catastrophic

6:26 p.m.

Nicholas Sitar, the Edward G. Cahill and John R. Cahill Professor of Civil Engineering at UC Berkeley, said losing 30 feet from the top of the emergency spillway could be catastrophic.

“You look at 30 feet times the area of the reservoir,” he said. “That is how much water is going to come out. That is a huge volume of water.”

He said the Department of Water Resources is “dumping as much water as the river could handle.”

He said, “All that you do is watch it – whatever expert you talk to, all you can do is hope for the best.”

Evacuation expands

6:15 p.m.

Caltrans tweeted that the evacuation for Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties includes Hallwood, Marysville, Olivehurst/Linda, Plumas Lake, Gridley, Live Oak and Yuba City due to potential failure of Oroville Dam spillway.

Oroville and other area residents streaming out of town have created a large traffic jam at Highway 99 and Bogue Road, where many are fueling their vehicles and heading for safety.

Jessica Robertson, 28, a Yuba City resident, was among the throngs Sunday night filling her gas tank after receiving the word to get out.

“I’m fine, but I’m a little irritated with the traffic,” she said. “I hope everyone stays safe. They’re saying everything’s going to be fine, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Michelle Grandinetti and her family quickly left their home off Oroville Quincy Highway and tried to get on Hwy. 70 to head for a family member’s home in Elk Grove. Grandinetti described a slow-going, frantic scene.

“We took enough clothes for three days, our children, seven total that are still with us, our two dogs and food for them!,” Grandinetti wrote in a Facebook message to The Bee. “We just moved here a few months ago and haven’t ever had to deal with this! Everyone is leaving! All the stores are closed! Just got on the freeway and the river is only feet away!”

Effect on Sacramento?

Sacramento emergency officials are monitoring impact of Oroville Dam emergency

Sacramento County emergency services officials say they are assessing what, if any, impact the Oroville Dam situation may have on Sacamento.

“We are aware of the situation in Oroville and will continue to monitor for any impacts it may have on Sacramento County,” authorities said in a tweet.

The worst case scenario

There is no map showing exactly what will happen if the emergency spillway collapses tonight. Officials only have a map showing a failure of the dam. That worst case scenario is useful in that it shows where water goes and how fast it gets there.

Water would get to the town of Oroville within an hour.

If Oroville Dam were to suffer a massive breach, water would get to the town of Oroville within an hour, according to GIS maps maintained by CalFire.

Within two hours, the small town of Briggs would be affected. In three hours, Gridley would be hit. Water would reach Live Oak in five hours..

It would take eight to 12 hours for the water to get to Marysville and Yuba City.

If the dam completely failed, flood depths could reach more than 100 feet in Oroville and up to 10 feet in Yuba City.

The CalFire maps represent a catastrophic breach and are not necessarily indicative of what could happen tonight.

Speed of flooding


Source: CalFire
The Sacramento Bee

Heavy traffic amid evacuation

5:59 p.m.

Aerial photos show traffic backed up along Highway 70 as people from Oroville try to escape to the north.

Flows boosted to try to avoid collapse

5:52 p.m.

Releases through the main spillway at Oroville Dam have been boosted to 100,000 cubic feet per second from 55,000 cfs in hopes of easing pressure on the emergency spillway before a failure occurs, officials said Sunday night.

Kevin Dossey, a Department of Water Resources engineer and spokesman said “it might help” to alleviate the pressure.

So far, Dossey said, the emergency spillway’s concrete lip at the top has not crumbled, although the hillside had “eroded to within several feet” of the big concrete structure.

Marysville and Yuba County ordered evacuated; officials unsure how Sacramento could be hit

Marysville, Yuba County ordered to evacuate

5:42 p.m.

Marysville police say the city and Yuba County are under mandatory evacuation orders because of the feared collapse of the emergency spillway at Lake Oroville Dam. Yolo County officials said in a tweet that they do not expect any impact.

Witnesses reported a heavy police presence in the city.

“The hazardous situation concerning the Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway is NOT expected to impact Yolo County,” the county said.

Cal OES spokesman Brad Alexander said officials were activating the state emergency operations center and could not immediately address how waterlogged Sacramento County might be affected.

“I can’t answer that right now,” Alexander said.

‘It’s uncontrolled’

5:30 p.m.

Fearing a gush from Lake Oroville if the emergency spillway collapses, officials are releasing as much as 100,000 cubic feet per second from the main, heavily damaged spillway in a frantic effort to drain the lake below where it spills out the emergency structure when the lake reaches maximum capacity, said Kevin Dossey, an engineer and Department of Water Resources spokesman.

The levee-line downstream channels in the Feather River could hold more than 150,000 cubic feet per second, said Maury Roos, a DWR hydrologist, but he said there’s a possibility that a levee could breach from the pressure.

Roos said that below where the Feather River merges with the Yuba River, levees are rated for a capacity of around 300,000 cfs.

When asked how much water could be released should the spillway collapse, DWR spokesman Chris Orrock said, “It’s uncontrolled. It’s uncontrolled.”

Dossey said the emergency spillway was rated to handle 250,000 cubic feet per second, but it began to show weakness Sunday at a small fraction of that. Flows through the spillway peaked at 12,600 cfs at 1 a.m. Sunday and were down to 8,000 cfs by midday.

Evacuation center at Silver Dollar Fairgrounds

5:15 p.m.

An evacuation center has been established for Oroville residents at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico, according to the National Weather Service. The address is 2357 Fair St.
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Evacuees wait to fill gas tanks at Quik Stop on Hwy 99 and Bogue Road

An evacuation order prompted by the erosion of the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam produced lines of vehicles on Bogue Road at Highway 99, coming out of Yuba City.
Andy Furillo The Sacramento Bee

Butte County sheriff: “This is NOT A Drill.”

5 p.m.

The Butte County Sheriff’ Office released the following statement on Facebook:

This is an evacuation order.

Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream is ordered.

A hazardous situation is developing with the Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway. Operation of the auxiliary spillway has lead to severe erosion that could lead to a failure of the structure. Failure of the auxiliary spillway structure will result in an uncontrolled release of flood waters from Lake Oroville. In response to this developing situation, DWR is increasing water releases to 100,000 cubic feet per second.

Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream is ordered.

This in NOT A Drill. This in NOT A Drill. This in NOT A Drill.

Chris Orrock, a spokesman for the Department of Water Resources, told The Bee the failure happened as the bottom of the emergency spillway began to erode.

“It happened quickly,” he said.

Sutter County also put out an alert on Facebook:

We have received information about the potential for increased flows in the Feather River of as much as 100,000 cubic feet per second. We are gathering as much information as possible and will be providing additional information as soon as it is verified.

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Streams of cars seen fleeing Oroville area

Sacramento Bee writer Dale Kasler seems to be the only car racing toward Oroville, as streams of cars are seen fleeing the Oroville area.
Dale Kasler The Sacramento Bee

Officials warn of “imminent failure” at Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway

4:45 p.m.

Officials are warning those living downstream of Lake Oroville’s dam to evacuate because of a risk that the dam’s emergency spillway could collapse.

“They have what they expect to be an imminent failure of the axillary spillway,” said Mike Smith, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “What they’re expecting is as much as 30 vertical feet of the top of the spillway could fail and could fail within one to two hours. We don’t know how much water that means, but we do know that’s potentially 30 feet of depth of Lake Oroville.”

The Department of Water Resources, which operates the dam, said in a 4:42 p.m. Twitter post that the emergency spillway could fail within the next hour.

“Oroville residents evacuate northward,” the Tweet said.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow. The Bee’s Ellen Garrison, Tony Bizjak and Jessica Hice contributed.