The worst may be over on Monday for the nearly 200,000 residents ordered to be evacuated from a California region threatened by an inundated lake held up by a dam with a damaged emergency spillway meant to ease the pressure.
Water levels in Lake Oroville dipped overnight, stopping the flow of excess water into the damaged spillway, that were in danger of crumbling, flooding downstream areas. The dam itself, the tallest in the US, was never in danger.
Lake Oroville is one of California’s largest man-made lakes, and the dam is 335-metres tall. Water levels surged Saturday night to such an extent that the spillways were deployed for the first time in the 50 years since it was built.
Sunday afternoon, engineers spotted a hole in the spillway, which authorities feared could widen, sending a 30-foot wall of water into downstream communities.
The lake, which also serves as a reservoir, had swelled in recent weeks as California, which had suffered record droughts for years, has been hit by a series of storms that have dumped rain and snow across the state, particularly in northern parts where the lake lies about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco.
Associated Press reported on Monday that the threat appeared to have eased somewhat citing officials saying water flows into the lake stood at about 45,000 cubic feet per second with outflows at 100,000 cubic feet per second.
But the evacuation order remained in force, leaving relieved residents now dreading possibly the drive home through the bumper-to-bumper snarls they had negotiated on their way out.
Raj Gill, who manages a Shell station where anxious motorists got gas and snacks, was widely cited in news reports for keeping the facility open to help residents despite being told by his boss to leave. But he was worried too. “You can’t even move,” he told AP. “I’m trying to get out of here too. I’m worried about the flooding. I’ve seen the pictures — that’s a lot of water.”