Oroville Dam-area mandatory evacuations lifted

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Nearly 200,000 residents were allowed to return to their homes after a mandatory evacuation near the Oroville Dam was lifted. (KABC)

Northern California officials on Tuesday lifted an evacuation order for nearly 200,000 residents who live below the Oroville Dam.

The evacuation was put in place Sunday amid concerns the dam might fail due to spillway damage and send a wall of water downstream.

"We have concluded that it is safe to reduce the immediate evacuation order currently in place to an evacuation warning. This allows evacuated residents to return to their homes and for businesses in the area to resume operations," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said.

Although the mandatory evacuation order was lifted, Honea stated that residents should stay prepared in case the situation changes and to be ready for "the prospect that we will issue another evacuation order."

State water officials said they have drained enough of the lake behind Oroville Dam so that its earthen emergency spillway will not be needed to handle runoff from an approaching storm that is expected to bring rain later in the week.

MORE: For 1st time ever, water flows over emergency spillway at Oroville Dam

Honea said the risks to a damaged spillway at the dam were significantly reduced because an inspection found no further erosion.

The water levels dropped to a safe level after crews and helicopters placed sandbags, rocks and cement blocks around the damaged parts of the spillway.

Later Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump declared the situation a major disaster, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Trump also approved another major disaster declaration for the state of California to help with the impacts of January storms.

"I want to thank FEMA for moving quickly to approve our requests. This federal aid will get money and resources where it's needed most," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a written statement.

Residents expressed frustration while they were evacuated from their homes. Some at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico were upset to be away from their homes, while others tried to stay positive.

"I would rather be up here in a little discomfort for a few days and make sure that I'm not going to get flooded out of my house," one evacuee said.

The fairgrounds have helped with donations and clothing, but some people have said there have been problems with a lack of cots and issues with restrooms.

Over the weekend, the swollen lake spilled down the unpaved emergency spillway for nearly 40 hours, leaving it badly eroded. The problem occurred six days after engineers discovered a growing hole in the dam's main, concrete spillway.

MORE: LA County dams getting safety evaluation amid Oroville Dam situation

Lake Oroville is the main reservoir of California's State Water Project, which supplies water for more than half the state's 39 million residents and for millions of acres of farmland in the leading agricultural state.

It's not clear how damage to the two spillways will affect long-term water releases from the dam.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Related Topics:
oroville damweatherwaterrainstorm damageevacuationfloodingstormNorthern California
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