Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Officials evacuated tens of thousands of residents in Northern California on Sunday out of fear an emergency spillway connected to the Oroville Dam could fail, potentially flooding suburbs in the surrounding area.
Officials discovered a hole in the auxiliary spillway last week after days of heavy rains. The expanding hole lead to concerns Oroville and towns in Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties could be flooded.
While the threat lessened somewhat early Monday morning, more than 180,000 people were being urged to leave the area as officials worry the dam poses a threat to safety.
"I couldn't risk lives of thousands of people, so we took this significant step," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said at a news conference. "We needed to get people moving, quickly, in order to protect the public and save lives if the worse-case scenario came to fruition."
Officials moved to release about 100,000 cubic feet of water per second from the main spillway in order to drop water levels in Lake Oroville on Sunday after erosion caused the spillway to crack. Emergency responders dropped bags of rocks into the area to stop water from flowing through the area, in hopes it would slow the erosion and prevent nearby towns from flooding.