Red Cross sending five Arizonans to help Oroville Dam evacuees in California

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What happened to the dam's spillways?

February 10: Water flow down the Spillway was increased to' 55,000 cfs to reduce erosion damage and prevent the lake from overflowing as it inched closer to 901 feet. Engineers can release excess water through these chutes in a controlled manner in order to prevent flooding.

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.

Both the primary and backup drainage channels of the dam, known as spillways, were damaged by a build-up of water that resulted from an extraordinarily wet winter in Northern California following years of severe drought.

Within 40 hours of being pressed into service, the rarely used emergency spillway was eroding rapidly. Emergency spillways are usually reserved for last-resort situations.

This left the emergency spillway badly eroded with a gaping hole.

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"Once this storm system arrives, Lake Oroville's water levels will rise, potentially forcing the need to utilize the failing emergency spillway", Brown added.

Were officials warned about the potential for erosion?

The groups said rocks and other debris could be swept into the river, damaging highway bridges and power plants downstream. They say having to leave once was bad enough.

He said if the state listened to the 2005 warnings and installed the concrete a decade ago, "This problem would not have occurred".

"When I got those, I immediately contacted (Department of Water Resources Interim) Director Croyle and I said, 'This is what we're hearing".

Obviously, such a massive water release could have caused the worst dam disasters in US history.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency also announced that federal disaster relief for Butte, Sutter and Yuba counties had been approved by the White House on Tuesday.

"The situation is a textbook example of why we need to pursue a major infrastructure package in Congress", Spicer said at a daily briefing on February 14.

Is the situation still unsafe?

That's something they aim to avoid by continuing the high-ouput release of the main spillway. Technicians reduced the amount of water flowing down that spillway and the lake's level kept rising.

"We continue to armor up the hillside", said Chris Orrock, a Department of Water Resources spokesman.

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