California dam evacuation affects former county woman


The eyes of the nation turned to Northern California on Sunday, as the massive erosion of the spillway at the Oroville Dam caused the evacuation of three counties of poeple.

And, even though it happened in Northern California near Sacramento; the situation hit home here in Switzerland County.

Barbara Rice, the sister of Reta Gray of Pleasant, and her husband, Bob, were a part of the 188,000 people who were evacuated on Sunday.

“They had to evacuate and take what they could take,” Reta said. “They had some animals that they had to get them in a kennel. They’re safe, but they’re shook up.”

The couple also owns a small business located a couple of miles from their home, so there is also fear that the flood water has impacted it, also.

Reta said that her brother-in-law has a plane that he flies, and after the evacuation he flew over the area where the couple’s home is.

“He flew over to see if they had anything left; and he said that it looked pretty sad,” Reta said.

Reta said that there are a lot of small towns in the area around Lake Oroville.

Reta said that the couple started towards Sacramento when the evacuation order came down; and Barbara said that it took them five hours to travel 30 miles before they got to a safe area and checked into a hotel.

Barbara was born and raised in Switzerland County, and was a 1958 graduate of Vevay High School.

After graduation, she following her first husband, who was in the Air Force, to California, where the couple lived on base.

After returning from flying over the area, Bob Rice shared some perspective with his family.

“He flew over and said it was pretty bad, when they went back whether they would have anything left or not,” Reta said. “But he said we have our lives.”


From national news services:

Heavy rainfall in Northern California this winter has filled Lake Oroville to the verge of overflow. The lake also gets water from the northern Sierra Nevada mountain range, which is experiencing one of its wettest seasons. This has triggered concerns over whether the water could overflow the dam and flood nearby communities.

Last week, the primary spillway was damaged by erosion, according to the California Department of Water Resources. Images of the structure showed a massive hole in the lower part of the channel.

That hole can’t be fixed at the moment. It’s 250 feet long, 170 feet wide and about 40 to 50 feet deep, said Bill Croyle, acting director of the Department of Water Resources.

“You don’t throw a little bit of rock in it,” he said.

Of the two, the emergency spillway is a last resort. At Oroville Dam, the emergency spillway is only used if water levels reach 901 feet in elevation. It hasn’t needed to be used in its 48-year history – until this weekend.