Frustration, fear, and tales of harrowing escape dominated a public forum held in Oroville last night.
Residents spoke of chaos during the emergency, with jammed phone lines, evacuation routes leading through flood zones and the elderly and disabled left behind.
Oroville resident Anne Terry relayed the fear she felt while stuck in jammed traffic
“As I sat there, you know, on the bridge, with the river coming this way, and I got a couple of grandkids in the car with me and my handicapped daughter and I’m trying to hurry up and get us to Chico. Scary.”
Still a source of local pride, residents are growing distrustful of officials charged with balancing the dam’s conflicting priorities. There’s a sense that maximizing water storage and preventing floods while providing enough water for endangered species, including salmon, have left downstream communities an afterthought.
Oroville resident Patricia Bravo: “My life doesn’t count for much, does it? I don’t matter.”
More than one speaker singled out the Department of Water Resources.
“They sell the water, they decide the height of that lake,” Oroville resident Larry Teague said. “And greed got us here. Because they want that water level right at the very top.”
Teague said managers should have never let the lake get so full.
Residents described a chaotic scene after the initial alert. Phone lines to first responders quickly overloaded. Local media had scant useful information. Speakers described carless senior citizens, some in wheelchairs, desperately trying to hitch rides from passing motorists.
More than one speaker said emergency systems failed.
Pamela Alley is a volunteer with the Butte County Public Safety Scanner, a volunteer group “I was signed up for every notification service there was. I got nothing. No reverse 911. No text notifications. No calls. Not even my neighbors let me know.”
While local officials, including Sheriff Kory Honea received praise, most speakers, like retired iron worker Jesse Kirk said state officials weren’t sharing critical information.
“I have a lot of problems with a lot of the decisions, like the decision yesterday not to let the media in to the meeting when the governor was there,” Kirk said. “I have a problem when they’re hiding things from me. A real problem.”
Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly said the forum, held at a local Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, would help the community vent and heal. No DWR representatives appeared to attend. Connelly said he and county leaders would seek redress and reimbursement from Sacramento, possibly through legal action. Connelly announced a second forum, scheduled for noon on Saturday.