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As Oroville Dam threatens, people of goodwill step up

As Oroville Dam threatens, people of goodwill step up

Sacramento Bee | February 12, 2017 –

Questions abound in the midst of the Oroville Dam crisis. Why did inspections not detect flaws that led the huge concrete spillway to rupture? Why was the earthen emergency spillway not buttressed to handle a deluge of this season’s magnitude?

Should state officials have insisted that urban and agricultural users who depend on Lake Oroville pay to line the emergency spillway with concrete, as environmentalists urged in 2005? Stuart Leavenworth and Sean Cockerham of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau and The Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Sabalow have detailed that question.

Officials are scrambling, not only for answers, but to avoid a calamitous break that would inundate great swaths of California. Meanwhile, any doubts about this state’s resilience are being answered, as Californians do what people of goodwill do.

At the direction of law enforcement, 188,000 evacuees have fled the path of the Feather River below the huge earthen dam that has become dangerously unstable.

In Chico, at Silver Dollar Fairgrounds, 20 AmeriCorps workers with strong backs assembled cots that arrived at 3 a.m. for many of the 1,000 evacuees who had no place else to sleep.

Some had arrived in walkers and wheelchairs. Many fled without remembering to grab their medication. They all arrived uncertain of what would come next.

“People are very scared, especially the elderly who are here by themselves,” said Bob Mulholland, who lives in Chico and went to the fairgrounds Sunday night to lend a hand however he could. “Sometimes, it’s just holding someone’s hands.”

At 4 a.m. on Monday, Judy Irby, a bookkeeper at the Nugget grocery in Woodland, heard someone banging at the store’s back door. The store is closed at that hour, and for safety reasons, she wouldn’t ordinarily have opened it. But she recognized the guy causing the commotion.

Matt Rexroad, the veteran Yolo County supervisor, explained that roughly 350 evacuees spent the night at the Yolo County Fairgrounds, and were about to wake up hungry and thirsty.

In short order, three Nugget employees filled and folded 150 breakfast burritos, and enough water to wash it down. Oh, and throw in diapers and formula. Someone else picked up utensils at Costco. And put it on Rexroad’s credit card.

Not that it matters, but Rexroad is a Republican campaign consultant, and Mulholland is a Democratic operative. In an emergency, partisan identities don’t matter.

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