Evacuation order lifted for areas near damaged US dam

Workers at a staging area near the Oroville Dam watching a helicopter pick up rocks on Tuesday. Urgent repairs were made to reinforce the dam's emergency spillway after it was damaged by a build-up of water following heavy rains in Northern Californi
Workers at a staging area near the Oroville Dam watching a helicopter pick up rocks on Tuesday. Urgent repairs were made to reinforce the dam's emergency spillway after it was damaged by a build-up of water following heavy rains in Northern California. Officials now believe that it is safe enough for evacuees to return to their homes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

OROVILLE (California) • Californians who were ordered to evacuate due to a threat from the tallest dam in the United States can now return home after state crews working round the clock reinforced a drainage channel that was weakened by heavy rain.

Officials had ordered 188,000 people living downriver from the Oroville Dam to evacuate on Sunday and reduced that to an evacuation warning on Tuesday, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said.

That means people can move back to their homes and businesses can reopen, but they should be prepared to evacuate again if necessary, he added.

Both the primary and backup drainage channels of the dam, known as spillways, were damaged by a build-up of water that resulted from an extraordinarily wet winter in Northern California following years of severe drought. The greater danger was posed by the emergency spillway, which was subjected to urgent repairs in recent days. Though damaged, the primary spillway was still useable, officials said.

More rain was forecast from mid-week through to Sunday, according to the National Weather Service, but the state's Department of Water Resources said the upcoming storms were unlikely to threaten the emergency spillway.

Evacuees received more good news from President Donald Trump, who declared an emergency in the state, authorising the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

The lifting of the mandatory evacuation improved the mood among evacuees at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico, where families packed cars and sifted through piles of donated clothing.

Mr Philip Haar, 37, of Oroville, prepared to take his five dogs back home. "I'm confident with the warning. At least we'll know the next time something happens to be prepared more than this time," he said.

Bu, Mr Richard Lawson and his wife from Oroville said that they were not rushing home. Officials last week had expressed calm, then had abruptly ordered the evacuation on Sunday.

"They kept contradicting themselves. Every time they said something, they turned around and said something different," said Mr Lawson, 25.

"We're going to wait until the storm comes through," said Mrs Anna Lawson, 21.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Evacuation order lifted for areas near damaged US dam'. Print Edition | Subscribe