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OROVILLE, Calif. — The race is on to avoid a potentially catastrophic dam collapse in northern California.

The concrete spillway on Lake Oroville began breaking apart last week.

On Monday evening helicopters were carrying large bags of  boulders to help seal the breach. The race is on to secure the dam before a powerful storm moves in later this week.

Crews are also trying to lower lake levels and make temporary repairs.

The surge continues at the emergency spillway. Officials are trying to relieve pressure on the dam and contain the lake. Until engineers can be certain the reservoir will not be breached, tens of thousands of people who live below the dam are not allowed back home. Bernice Hernandez rushed out of town with her three grandchildren and had little time to pack up anything.

Right now there is no timetable for when locals can return and the evacuation has turned Oroville into a ghost town.

 

“We weren’t prepared. We weren’t ready,” Hernandez said.

Desiree Pearl and her 3-year-old daughter tried not to panic when they took off.

“I just packed up my kids and grabbed what I could and got out of there very quickly,” Pear said.

The Red Cross set up multiple shelters across the Sacramento area trying to accommodate the massive wave of evacuees flowing out of the Oroville area. For the many who decided to heed the warnings, the journey to the shelters has been stressful and draining

Oroville is about 70 miles north of Sacramento. On Sunday, fearing a failure could be imminent, officials ordered nearly 200,000 people living downstream from Lake Oroville to evacuate immediately.

Gov. Jerry Brown has put all 23,000 members of the California National Guard on standby. That has not happened since the 1992 L.A. riots.

Engineers are making progress draining some water out of Lake Oroville, but the sheriff says repairs may have to be made on that spillway before the evacuation order is lifted. With more rain in the forecast there’s no telling how long that could take.

1963 Baldwin Hills Dam Disaster

CBS2’s Dave Lopez recalls the 1963 Baldwin Hills dam disaster. The gash in the dam that supplied all the drinking water for West Los Angeles caused five deaths, loss of 65 homes and left 210 others damaged.

 

Most Living Near Dams Don’t Have A Safety Plan

Dams don’t fail very often in California, but when they do, the results can be catastrophic.

 

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