Oroville Dam Evacuees Return Home, But Still on Edge as Storm Looms

Three storms are headed for the region and expected to stretch into next week

Communities downstream from Northern California's Oroville Dam were bustling again Wednesday, but the the Butte County sheriff warned the emergency isn't over as forecasts called for three storms in the area, leaving people in Oroville and surrounding communities on edge.

So far, the battered spillway under repair is holding steady, and hundreds of workers are making sure it stays that way. State officials said late Wednesday the lake water level was 26 feet below the emergency spillway by Wednesday night.

Oroville's Cornucopia Restaurant was serving meals again for the first time in two days after virtually the entire town fled under an evacuation order Sunday, when officials believed the dam's emergency spillway was in danger of collapsing.

"Trying to make everyone feel welcome," said Christina Jarchow, restaurant manager. "Trying to be at ease, pretty much."

The restaurant closed immediately Sunday evening when the evacuation was ordered.

Though people are happy to return home, they are still unsure of what's ahead.

"Feeling a lot better, but the storm's coming in soon," Oroville resident David Vang said. "We might evacuate again, so I don't know."

Collins and Denny market, just outside Oroville, is getting a steady stream of customers buying up what’s left of the food and personal items and getting ready to evacuate at a moment's notice.

"I am staying packed, definitely staying ready," said Dicia Rowe of Thermalito. "I have children; I want them to stay as safe as possible."

Neighbor Wendy Rhoads isn't taking any chances.

"I’m going up to the mountains, where I live, and I’m going to stay there," she said. "I just don’t feel safe."

Three storms are headed for the region and expected to stretch into next week. Forecasters said the first two storms could drop a total of five inches of rain in higher elevations. The third storm, starting as early as Monday, could be more powerful.

"There's a potential for several inches," National Weather Service forecaster Tom Dang said. "It will be very wet."

Meanwhile, water officials continued to drain water from the lake at a rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second through the main spillway. And the massive repair operation was still underway on the dam's earthen emergency spillway.

"A lot of trucks, a lot of concrete, a lot of helicopters," said Bill Croyle of the state Department of Water Resources. "It's kind of like a war zone for all the right reasons out there."

Officials also are keeping a close eye on the main spillway, which is damaged as well.

"We're looking at the flow, we're making sure no further erosion is happening and we haven't seen any erosion for the past three days, even at higher rates of flow," said Chris Orrock of the Department of Water Resources.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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