Oroville Dam Emergency Evacuees Speak Out

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YUBA CITY -- Hundreds of people gathered at the Sutter County Veteran's Memorial Auditorium Tuesday night for a feedback session about the Oroville dam spillway emergency.

It was the first time many of the evacuees had been invited to share their experiences and offer suggestions in public about the way evacuations were handled a month ago.

"It seems wrong, its seems like someone would have been able to fix it well before now," evacuee Laverne Denyer said.

Denyer was one of many people who felt the emergency alert that said the dam's emergency spillway could have failed within an hour sent several towns into a panic, and created five to eight hour long traffic jams for people desperate to flee the possible disaster immediately. Others said that the Department of Water Resources and local leaders should have warned residents of the potential for evacuations earlier in the day, or in the days before that.

Some who came to the meeting believed that authorities knew about that erosion on the spillway for a long time and should have done more to fix it before they had to start managing a crisis.

"They should be releasing water earlier to keep the lake levels down to a safe level so it doesn't reach emergency level," an evacuee named Bob said.

One woman told the crowd that she was taken to an emergency shelter on February 12, only to be told that the site did not have the special needs equipment she needed for her disability, and was sent back home.

"I had to ask my daughter to come back and care for me. I had to ask my mother to come back and take care of me. I was alone, for a minute, and I was scared, and I didn't know what to do," said the same woman.

A woman who worked at an assisted living facility also said that some of the evacuation sites did not have motorized wheelchairs and or appropriate transportation for people who could not evacuate on their own.

Yuba City Spokesperson Darin Gale said that orders changed so rapidly on February 12 that even people who thought they had nothing to worry about were caught off guard. Three days before the spillway emergency, Gale spoke to FOX40 at an emergency preparedness meeting and said that Yuba City has no concerns about major flooding or localized flooding because of how much money it had recently invested in local levees. Three days later, the entire town was forced to evacuate.

"At that time honestly we did not anticipate the issues with the dam. The Department of Water Resources, we were following information they provided," Gale said.

Some at the meeting argued that it was time for people to put pressure on the Department of Water Resources, state representatives and local leaders to not only explain potential problems with infrastructure to the people they might affect immediately, but to fix them immediately as well.

"You can say you care all you want and all these nice platitudes, but I don't feel it, and when you're talking about people's lives, somebody better get darn serious," one evacuee said.