World Bulletin / News Desk
Thousands of residents left their homes in northern California late Sunday after authorities warned that a spillway damage in North America's tallest dam could lead to massive flooding in nearby towns.
Hundreds of cars brought traffic on Highway 99 to a standstill after the evacuation order went out at around 4 p.m. (0000GMT) following a notice from engineers working at the California Department of Water Resources said the emergency spillway in the Oroville Dam was damaged and leaking, the agency and local officials said.
"Unfortunately they couldn't advise me or tell me specifically how much time that would take so we had to make the very difficult and critical decision to initiate the evacuation of the Oroville area and all locations south of that," Butte County Sheriff Koney Honea told reporters.
"We needed to get people moving quickly to save lives if the worst case scenario came into fruition."
Honea said approximately two hours later, engineers informed local authorities the erosion on the spillway was not developing as quickly as they thought, and while two inches (5 centimeters) of water was still leaking, it was much lower than it was earlier.
The overflow began after a heavy downpour Sunday, hours after authorities said the dam was structurally sound.
The 770-foot tall (235-meter) earthfill embankment dam was opened in 1968 and is located east of the city of Oroville.