"I recognize how tough this situation is on people", Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said this weekend in a news conference. In Oroville, the average annual rainfall is about 31 inches, but since October, the Feather River, which begins at Lake Oroville, had already seen 25 inches of rain as of Saturday, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
The emergency spillway has not failed yet, and officials are waiting until first light to see how bad the erosion is. Officials are trying to get the lake level to drop to 50 feet below spill stage.
Officials also worked to increase the amount of water being released from California's second-largest reservoir, as it was filled to the brim by rain and snowfall this winter after a six-year drought. Over five hours later, hundreds of cars carrying panicked and angry people were sitting in gridlocked traffic.
Raj Gill, managing a Shell station where anxious motorists got gas and snacks, said his boss told him to close the station and flee himself, but he stayed open to feed a steady line of customers. I'm anxious about the flooding. "I recognize that we've had to displace a lot of people, but as you've heard tonight we needed to do that to ensure the public safety". An evacuation shelter was set up in Chico, which is north of the lake, at the Silver Dollar fairgrounds.
"Residents should be prepared to maintain situational awareness", Honea said.
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Some people had just a few minutes to prepare to evacuate, in what one Oroville resident described as "pure chaos".
A spillway collapse could send a 30-foot wall of water roaring downstream, but the water level has been dropping at the dam on Lake Oroville northeast of San Francisco.
For the first time in history, officials used an emergency spillway.
California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency order late Sunday evening in response to the dam's overflow crisis.
The acting head of California's water agency says he's "not sure anything went wrong" on the damaged spillway at the nation's tallest dam.
However it was still standing almost three hours later as the department said crews would use helicopters to drop rocks to fill a gouge in the spillway. The lake is the linchpin of California's government-run water delivery system, sending water from the Sierra Nevada for agriculture in the Central Valley and for residents and businesses in Southern California.