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Voices of Oroville: One year after Oroville Dam Spillway Crisis

Residents that were forced from their homes following the failure of the Oroville Dam Spillway one year ago take a look back at the impact is still has today.

Posted: Feb 13, 2018 7:36 PM
Updated: Feb 14, 2018 12:16 AM

Who could imagine they would have just one hour to evacuate their home? That's exactly what happened to nearly 200,000 people forced from their homes following the failure of the Oroville Dam Spillway on that Sunday afternoon on February 12th, 2017.

Some residents were completely caught off guard when the mandatory evacuation notice went out, others were prepared.

Margaret Johnston moved to Oroville when she was in the second grade. She remembers her father working on the Dam when it was being built. She's lived in the same home off Safford Street with her family since 1973. As she sits on her porch, she describes it as her sacred place. "This is my little temple here sometime, you know you can just sit here and pray and talk to God," Johnston said.  Only a levy and street separate her front steps from the Feather River.

Johnston recalls what happened when a mandatory evacuation notice went out. She was reluctant to go at first until two policemen knocked on her door and told her she needs to leave. Johnston said she's usually the head of her household and says it was hard losing control. "It was just like, all of a sudden I was just like everybody else. I didn't have any power, didn't have any control over my own house."

Johnston stayed at The Neighnorhood Church in Chico. "Being evacuated, going somewhere with a lot of people that you don't know. It was just really scary. At this point of my life, I've never had to do that in such a big way."

A few blocks down you'll find George Barber pouring a tasting for his customers at Purple Line Urban Winery. For 25 years George and his wife Kate have lived downtown. George said the winery was open when everyone received the evacuation notice.  George said it happened so quickly that people ran out without paying their bill, "people were terrified. Everybody's phone lit up and it was like- mass exodus."

Unlike the majority of residents, George and his wife were already prepared to go. They recalled the evacuation of Oroville in 1997 and saw what was coming this time around.  "It was clear water would come over the auxiliary spillway. And it had never been used before, and if it was a threat in 97 to evacuate the city I knew it was going to come we would be evacuated."

Today George says it's uncertain if they'll stay in downtown. His wife especially is uneasy, "we've been preparing to put our house on the market as far as getting things ready because she's not happy living under the dam."

Just like the Barber's preparedness, staff at the Northwest SPCA started preparing the moment the spillway cracked. Shelter manager Isha Buis has worked at the shelter since 1994. She said their director remembered the 1997 incident and knew they had to come up with a plan. Buis said first thing they did was take a count of the shelter, "We went ok, how and where can we move almost 200 animals?" Two days before the mandatory evacuation, staff at the shelter held a free adoption sale. They were able to place around 30 animals into forever homes. Buis said two staff members that lived in the safe zone housed all of the cats in their garage. Dogs were dispersed into other peoples homes and shelters in Chico.

If they had not cleared the shelter, Buis says the Sheriff would not have allowed them to return to the shelter until it was safe to do so. "If we had not done what we had done, proactively you know the two days prior to that, that would've been completely devastating."

Furter up closer to the dam, Oroville resident Melissa Parrish lived off of Morningstar Avenue when she was evacuated. She had just walked in through her front doors and quickly left with her husband, cat and only the clothes on her back. She describes a surreal atmosphere, "there was just cars, running stoplights, trucks on sidewalks, people were running and screaming. It was like an Armageddon movie it was unbelievable." 

For two days Parrish stayed at the evacuation center in Bangor. If the Spillway did fail, she was ready to start over. "You don't have a choice, you can't go back and drown. You can't just go save your stuff. You just have to be thankful you have your health and your wits and go," Parrish said.  

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2916309

Reported Deaths: 32851
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles98992813489
San Bernardino2450331560
Riverside2338992517
San Diego2068702037
Orange2059112277
Santa Clara899831040
Kern82398551
Sacramento791371062
Fresno79033904
Alameda64760768
Ventura57941401
San Joaquin55580738
Contra Costa49759410
Stanislaus41270730
Tulare39723494
Monterey34482248
San Mateo30694294
San Francisco28200241
Imperial24882463
Solano24654105
Merced23199290
Santa Barbara23184223
Sonoma22910234
Kings18453110
Placer16761173
San Luis Obispo14851125
Madera12778130
Santa Cruz11583111
Marin11244149
Yolo10097131
Shasta9594117
Butte9127120
Sutter743976
El Dorado739441
Napa711738
Lassen506713
San Benito477843
Yuba476626
Tehama391742
Tuolumne327936
Nevada307571
Mendocino305531
Amador294029
Lake237828
Humboldt226324
Glenn179819
Colusa16849
Calaveras151322
Siskiyou138812
Mono10804
Inyo88327
Del Norte8442
Plumas5735
Modoc3783
Mariposa3414
Trinity2994
Alpine730
Sierra690
Unassigned00
Chico
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 52°
Oroville
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 52°
Chico
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 52°
Red Bluff
Clear
62° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 62°
Red Bluff
Clear
62° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 62°
Chico
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 52°
We'll be dry and warm the next few days with strong winds Monday-Tuesday. We'll cool gradually through the week with a chance of showers Friday.
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