Evacuees allowed to return to homes near Oroville Dam

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OROVILLE, Calif. — A mandatory evacuation order that caused 188,000 people to leave below Lake Oroville was lifted Tuesday.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said a warning remains in place and residents should stay aware that circumstances might change for the worse.

Authorities are scrambling to drain the lake by 50 feet and repair damage to an emergency spillway before an imminent rainstorm threatens to push billions of gallons of water back into the lake.

A flash flood warning was in effect Tuesday after the spillway — which lets excess water out when the level gets too high — suffered massive damage over the weekend.

If the spillway fails, it could flood communities downstream with what one official warned could be a “30-foot wall of water.”

Helicopters have been dropping bags of rocks into the gouged portion in an effort to plug the hole.

“Our crews are working around the clock, 24/7, to try to get as much rock as possible onto the damaged spillway before the next storms come,” Cal Fire spokesman Josh Janssen said.

The lake water gushes into the emergency spillway when it reaches 901 feet. For now, officials are cautiously optimistic.

“We have the lake level at 894 feet, but that number is sure to drop,” Janssen said. “T

As repairs continue, evacuees have gone to shelters, pitched tents in parking lots and found makeshift arrangements for what could stretch for days.

Another deluge to come

The next wave of rainfall will come overnight Wednesday into Thursday. A series of storms will follow and last through the weekend.

Rainfall over the next week could total 5-12 inches and will likely push hundreds of billions of water back into Lake Oroville, Hennen said.

Will that be enough to overwhelm the dam’s spillways?

“The simple answer is we don’t know, but that is the concern,” Hennen said.

Request for federal aid

Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday that the state is “doing everything we can to get this dam in shape so (evacuees) can return and live safely without fear.” Brown said he had requested federal response aid.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said President Donald Trump “has been keeping a close eye on the Oroville Dam situation in California.”

He did not say whether Trump has been in touch with Brown, but said the administration has been communicating with Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa and other state officials.

“We’ve worked closely with Doug LaMalfa, who represents California’s first district where the dam is located, and other state officials to help people who have been impacted,” Spicer said Tuesday.

“The situation is a textbook example of why we need to pursue major infrastructure package in Congress. Dams, bridges, roads and all ports around the country have fallen into disrepair. … We will be working alongside with FEMA and appropriate government entities to make sure that we are doing everything we can to attend to this.”