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Five years since the Oroville Dam almost flooded Oroville and surrounding communities

Lake Oroville February 2022 (KRCR){p}{/p}
Lake Oroville February 2022 (KRCR)

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Nearly 180,000 people were evacuated from Oroville five years ago following a potential Oroville Dam disaster that threatened to flood the town and the surrounding communities.

People were evacuated on February 12, 2017, but the chain of events began on February 7 when a crater began forming in the main spillway.

Over the course of five days both the main and emergency spillway was eroding as the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and other officials tried to fix the problems.

The Butte County Sheriff, Kory Honea, ultimately made the decision to issue an emergency evacuation fearing the spillway would collapse potentially releasing a 30-foot wall of water in the Feather River below.

Bob Mullholland, a Chico resident, volunteered at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds where people were evacuated. He recaps with KRCR what it was like five years ago.

"I was watching the news and then I got the word that Sheriff Honea said they got to get out of there so I knew right away that this was big, this was serious," said Mullholland.

He estimated around six to seven thousand people evacuated to the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds.

"Many of the people, especially low income, ran out with just a trash bag and got into cars and got dumped at the fairgrounds and a lot of them didn't have prescriptions. People were scared, people were panicked. First, they didn't know where all their relatives were...Fortunately, Governor Jerry Brown and the sheriff came through and provided a lot of resources."

Mullholland said doctors and nurses set up a building at the fairgrounds for people who did not bring their prescriptions. They were able to get their prescriptions faxed to various pharmacies in Chico.

On top of that many resources were donated by the community.

"There were enough diapers dropped off that would last a year and tons of pallets of water, so the community really came through. It was a really reassuring feeling for people."

Mullholland, a Vietnam War veteran, added the camp set up at the fairgrounds reminded him of a military base.

Fortunately, the weir did not break and Oroville was not flooded.

After an investigation and public hearings, the spillway was re-constructed and reinforced with concrete to be more durable and handle extreme flooding.


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