Documents provide play-by-play of dam crisis response

AP Exclusive Dam managers made missteps in handling crisis

Over six days, operators of the tallest dam in the United States, struggled to figure out their next.

Managers at the 50-year-old Oroville dam, tallest in the USA, misjudged the size of the massive rupture in its main spillway, according to new disclosures. But that, too, began breaking apart, and almost 200,000 people were suddenly ordered to evacuate. Scroll through the photos and charts to see just how close to catastrophe residents near the Oroville Dam came.

An Associated Press review found officials made a series of questionable decisions and missteps before and during the crisis.

Federal and state documents, obtained by the AP, showed overseers overestimated the durability of the two spillways. And in public statements during the emergency, they failed to acknowledge - or perhaps recognize - that while they were busy dealing with one crisis, they were creating a possible new one.

"It was not whether people would die, but how many would die", Honea told AP.

The say there is a "real crisis for dam safety". Reoperation of the Oroville flood control spillway began April 14 and is planned to continue for approximately 14 days, the California Department of Water Resources reported. "This happened. Stuff happens", he said last month.

"They were futzing around with the main service spillway that had broken". For days, managers assured the public there was no imminent danger as they slowed releases of water to assess the damage.

In an email, the state tells local sheriffs that engineers from several organizations are working to determine the maximum amount of water that can be safely released down the eroding spillway.

They also want more communication and transparency from the government on the work.

Dam managers kept assuring the public there was "no imminent threat".

Using the spillway was necessary because enough water can't be released through the powerhouse underneath the dam to keep up with the inflow. If water begins flowing over the emergency spillway - essentially an unpaved hillside - operators can not control it, and it will wash large amounts of soil and debris into the river below the dam.

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