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579 Butte County Jail inmates evacuated to Alameda County

Michael Bodley

SF Gate

Feb 13, 2017

Nearly 200,000 people living in the shadow of Oroville Dam who were forced to evacuate Sunday left behind empty houses and vacant storefronts, deserted parks and abandoned cars.

Among the evacuees were 579 inmates from Butte County Jail, removed from the facility that threatened to flood if the dam’s emergency spillway gave way and bused some 150 miles south to Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

Though the integrity of the dam itself — the tallest in the United States at 770 feet, which holds back California’s second-largest reservoir — wasn’t in question, officials were worried that the operation of the emergency spillway was rapidly eroding a hillside surrounding it.

That could have caused the emergency chute, which had never been used before the weekend in the dam’s almost 50-year history and which dumps water, and debris, down a the hillside, to collapse, which would have been a “catastrophic” event, officials said. Downstream communities would have flooded, officials said.

It took 80 people and five buses Sunday around 4:30 p.m. to load up the hundreds of inmates and ensure the caravan arrived safely, according to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office. California Highway Patrol officers provided assistance on the long ride.

Once the Butte inmates made it to Dublin, they were processed like any other new arrival to the jail, said Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. They were interviewed and classified, keeping men with men, women with women and rival gang members away from each other, he said.

The Dublin jail averages about 2,500 inmates any given day, but the facility has room for nearly 5,000 in all, Kelly said, so there was ample space for the influx.

The inmates do require additional guards and other personnel, meaning some overtime would likely be required for workers, Kelly said. “We don’t anticipate that this will be very long,” Kelly said. “What we need to happen is we need things to stabilize up there in Butte County. We need the all-clear to be given. It won’t be a very long stay for the prisoners here.”

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