‘Get to higher ground’

Some of those left behind during evacuation ask, “Why?”

Sandra Delangis and Eric Locker sit along Oro Dam Boulevard Tuesday as the mandatory evacuation is lifted for Oroville.

Sandra Delangis and Eric Locker sit along Oro Dam Boulevard Tuesday as the mandatory evacuation is lifted for Oroville.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

On Tuesday afternoon, just as word went out that the mandatory evacuation order had been lifted for Oroville, the town’s heartbeat was weak. A few cars roamed the roadways and a couple businesses showed signs of life, but most everything else was dark, empty.

Sitting under a tree along Oro Dam Boulevard near the Sierra Central Bank that flanks FoodMaxx were Eric Locker and Sandra Delangis. They were chatting with a friend, a man on a bike who had offered them a box of Raisin Bran.

“We got the emergency text,” Locker said, recalling Sunday’s evacuation orders.

“There were about eight of us,” Delangis added. “We heard there was going to be a bus, a B-Line, and we were gonna catch it.”

But they didn’t. When they arrived at the location where they believed the bus would be, they were told to leave, they said. Officers told them they couldn’t stay there and to move along. “Go to higher ground,” they were repeatedly told. So they moved along and were again shoo’d. And again. Ultimately the panic subsided, and as the rest of Oroville vacated their homes and businesses, Locker and Delangis, who had no home to vacate, remained.

“They left us to die here,” Locker said, his voice rising in anger. Delangis just nodded her head.

To hear Kory Honea, Butte County sheriff, explain it, “Certain scenarios can exist—natural disasters are among them—where there’s no support network you can build that will take care of every circumstance or individual. You let people know what the threat is, and it’s incumbent on them to put themselves in the best position possible to account for their own safety.”

So when it came to Oroville’s homeless population, most of whom don’t have cars to take them quickly to safety, they were on their own. B-Line buses were providing transportation for free, however, and a Facebook message from Stephanie Hayden, who runs The Hope Center, one of the city’s missions, said, “We re-rerouted the clients who were lingering to the evac transportation areas.” She didn’t know anything more than that.

Messages to the Oroville Rescue Mission and the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care were not returned by press time, but Brad Montgomery, executive director of Chico’s Torres Community Shelter, said he’d heard the ORM had provided vans to transport homeless Orovillians to Chico evacuation shelters.

Outside the Valero gas station on Montgomery Street, Corrina and Jesse Sanchez and their friend Christine Sampson were talking, pacing, generally passing time. Their story of Sunday’s evacuation was eerily similar to that of Locker and Delangis. After receiving an emergency text message, Corrina said, they attempted to find transportation out of Oroville.

“I asked an officer about buses and he just laughed at me,” Sampson said.

What was more, the Sanchezes had a family member on the coast who offered to pick them up and take them out of the area, but he wasn’t able to find a way in to get them out. Just like Locker and Delangis, the three said they were repeatedly told to “Get to higher ground.” At one point while walking, Corrina recalled, she looked over and saw a group of other homeless people standing on the roof of a laundromat. “That was higher ground,” she said.

“Without warning, we were told to evacuate,” Sampson said. “But they didn’t have the resources to help us. The homeless—they didn’t care if we drowned. It was survival of the fittest.”

Corrina’s biggest complaint was that there was no clear messaging. They were told to go up Lincoln Boulevard, she said, and then they were told to go somewhere else. “Where is the safe place in Oroville where we can go?” she asked. “We got no help.”

Others, like Diane Goble, who was sitting along the side of a building near the Southside Mini Mart Tuesday, weren’t even aware of the evacuation. “How did they alert us, by mail?” she asked, seriously. “I don’t have a television. I didn’t get that info.”

The 78-year-old who said she lives in Southside Oroville had heard some news about the spillway, but was otherwise unaware of the situation. She has no family in the area anymore, she said. No one had come to get her.

“I lost a little hope in humanity on Sunday,” Sampson said. “It was sheer pandemonium, everyone out for themselves. It was scary.”