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Oroville Dam evacuees told they can return home

The Sacramento Bee

OROVILLE, Calif. With the crisis at the Oroville Dam stabilized for now, authorities announced Tuesday that the 188,000 people evacuated Sunday will be allowed to return to their homes.

The announcement by Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, who ordered the mass exodus Sunday afternoon amid fears that the dam's emergency spillway might collapse, came in an afternoon press briefing in Oroville. He said the area would remain under an evacuation warning.

Communities covered by the evacuation order included Oroville, Marysville, Olivehurst, Linda, Plumas Lake, Gridley, Live Oak and Yuba City. The mass exodus filled motels and hotels in Chico and areas of Sacramento, as well as emergency shelters set up in fairgrounds, schools, at Cal Expo and on the grounds of Beale Air Force Base.

Some people refused to leave their homes, and others began returning on Monday to the largely deserted communities. Others who were living in shelters or sleeping in their vehicles were complaining by Monday that they wanted to return to their homes.

Honea had been adamant that he would not allow residents to return until he was certain they would be safe, and he acknowledged that ordering the evacuation in the first place had been extremely difficult.

Massive storms filled Lake Oroville and water began spilling over the lip of the emergency spillway Saturday for the first time in the dam's 50-year history. Erosion on the hillside adjacent to the spillway led to fears that the structure would fail Sunday afternoon, and officials ordered the evacuations.

Since then, massive releases through the main spillway have lowered the level of the lake to about 14 feet below the lip of the emergency spillway, and authorities are hoping to lower the lake level by 50 feet.

They are concerned about a series of storms expected to hit the area beginning Thursday, but hope to have the lake 20 to 25 feet lower than the top of the spillway by then, which officials believe is enough to handle the upcoming storm.

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