Not everyone was able to escape Oroville last night. Tony Bizjak The Sacramento Bee
Not everyone was able to escape Oroville last night. Tony Bizjak The Sacramento Bee

Water & Drought

Oroville vice mayor expresses ‘a degree of frustration’ with mass evacuation

By Tony Bizjak

tbizjak@sacbee.com

February 13, 2017 10:45 AM

A mass evacuation of communities below the compromised Oroville Dam left vice mayor Janet Goodson marooned in Red Bluff after evacuating Sunday night.

She said she respects and understands the Butte County sheriff's call for continued evacuations, and says that safety is the foremost issue, but she said she also feels frustrated.

"To be honest with you, there is a degree of frustration," she said.

Asked whether it was a mistake not to have done more to improve the dam’s emergency spillway, she said she prefers to look forward

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access.

"We are where we are," she said. "We can learn from mistakes, things we failed to recognize. We have to move forward in a collaborative fashion and make sure this does not happen in the future. This is a learning experience for us."

Not everyone was able to escape Oroville Sunday night.

Grant Gallaway lives in an apartment one block from the Feather River, where he can see the dam looming on the hill above. He doesn’t own a car.

When the apartment manager told him that evacuations had been ordered, he stuffed some clothes into a backpack and started walking uphill to a high spot in town. As he walked, he heard police on loudspeakers telling people to head to Highway 70.

He chose Oroville hospital, where he spent the night sitting on a chair in the emergency room.

He was still there Monday morning hoping for word that he can go back to his apartment.

"It's just wait, and wait, and wait some more," he said.

Robert Wentz, CEO at Oroville hospital, said the hospital operating normally, although patients were moved last night to the second floor "out of an abundance of caution."

The hospital is on a hill, out of what he called the inundation zone. It has 95 patients, and is fully staffed.

"Evacuation of acutely ill people is very serious, so it is generally better to shelter in place," he said. "We feel the patients are very safe."

The town of Oroville itself was largely quiet and empty Monday morning, although cars drove to and from residential areas.

Cars, including emergency vehicles, were backed up at the one gas station in the center of town that remained open.

Dump trucks traveled back and forth up the dam road.

But some people who had evacuated the night before were choosing to return.

Jacob Asher, Brandon Phillips and their roommates left Sunday night in a hurry, taking their cat Honda with them, to spend the night in Bangor at a relative's house.

But Monday morning, when they saw that the weather was clear, they decided to head back to their house in a small residential area in central Oroville. The roads were clear, and there was no law enforcement blocking their reentry into town

"We checked the news and the water was down 3 feet so we decided to come back and will stay here and wait until it rains," Asher said. "It's nerve-wracking."

Nick's Market, which advertises itself as "the first dam stop" below the spillway, was open and doing big business on Orange Avenue Monday morning. It's one of only a few businesses open in Oroville.

Linda Gresham, who has run the place since taking over from her dad Nick in 1987, said she and her husband Rick showed up this morning to discover two broken windows on the backside of the building.

They don't think it had to do with the evacuation though.

"They just probably were some punk kids," Rick said.

The store is on a hill, so Gresham says she feel safe.

"We are fine," she said.

"No, you are awesome," said a customer who was buying two gallons of milk.

Colleen Kingsley lives four blocks away from the Oroville Dam spillway. Now at a shelter in Chico, she described a chaotic scene getting out on Sunday. Andy Furillo The Sacramento Bee

Flows over the emergency spillway stopped Sunday night, but massive flows of water continued to crash over the main spillway Tony Bizjak The Sacramento Bee

Water levels dropped Monday at California's Lake Oroville, stopping water from spilling over a massive dam's potentially hazardous emergency spillway after authorities ordered the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people from towns lying below the lake. KGO via AP

Approximately 188,000 people were evacuated due to the threat of the emergency spillway of the Oroville Dam, the United States' tallest dam, failing and unleashing flood waters. Here's drone footage from the California Department of Water Resources taken on Feb. 11, 2017 at 4 PM. California Department of Water Resources

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak