Crisis as a reminder

Problems at looming Oroville Dam a stark reminder of its awesome and potentially devastating capabilities

The two-day mandatory evacuation of low-lying Oroville and other valley regions may have been downgraded to a warning, but there’s reason for caution. The weather forecast says its going to rain for the next week and the work to shore up the emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam is ongoing. Mother Nature has a mind of her own, and she could throw us a few more curveballs in this year of record rain.

What that means for people living in the flood plain is that they must remain on guard, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. We suggest residents prepare by pre-packing an emergency bag with the essentials—clothing, toiletries, medicine, snacks, etc.

We also think law enforcement officials need to quickly come up with better escape routes. Sheriff Kory Honea was right to order the evacuation, but what we saw as a result was chaotic—tens of thousands of residents stuck in gridlock traffic in an area that would have been underwater had the emergency spillway failed. In fact, had that occurred, we’d be talking about catastrophic loss of life (see Howard Hardee’s report on page 9).

Meanwhile, some vulnerable folks were simply left behind. As Meredith J. Cooper reports this week (see page 10), many homeless residents were told to flee but weren’t offered transportation to out-of-area shelters and had no way to secure it themselves. “They left us to die here,” one man told her. That shouldn’t have happened.

Due to the drought, it’s been easy to forget about this looming infrastructure system in our backyard. This week was a heck of a reminder.