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When I first heard about the evacuations necessitated by the Oroville Dam happenings, my wife was loudly vacuuming dog hair out of the rug on the floor of our Yuba City residence. Now, I have a very particular set of mental disorders, and among them is misophonia, a strong anxious reaction to loud noise. So when I was e-mailed by a college professor about the evacuation order, I was already under considerable stress. But there was a substantial amount of dog hair, so it had to be done.
It was the afternoon of Sunday, the 12th of February, in the 2017th year of Our Lord, and I had sequestered myself to my bedroom to escape what sounded to me like a rabid jet-engine waterboarding a dozen piglets. I thought, Well, it’s Sunday night, I guess I should see if there is any homework that I have procrastinated doing. So I logged into my community college e-mail system to find a message that my Monday afternoon Psychology class would be cancelled due to imminent failure of the Oroville dam spillway. Confused but hastily, I Googled “Oroville Dam Spillway,” and learned that my county and two others were issuing a mandatory evacuation order.
I am not a doomsday prepper or anything, but I used to keep a well-stocked bug-out bag due to the frequency of wildfires in the valley. Unfortunately, earlier this winter I had emptied it out so I could use it as a carry-on bag for a flight I ended up not taking. Because its contents had since been sorted into hundreds of arbitrary places, it was useless. But had it been stocked, I probably would have forgotten it anyway.
I wouldn’t say I was panicked, but I was at the time under the impression that the auxiliary spillway had collapsed, and that a 30-foot wall of water was heading south to murder everyone. I was able to remain calm enough to form a simple mental check-list.
In no particular order: keys, wallet, phone, charger, whatever I am currently wearing, dog, cats, oh-my-god-I’m-gonna-die, mints, medicine, computer, shoes, and pet food.
It only took us a few minutes to get that stuff loaded into her car. I had last parked mine with only fumes in the tank, and with the gas-station lines all as long as the mexican border, I figured I’d rather just leave it behind rather than get stranded in it. Once again, I was fearing a 30-foot wall of water.
Almost as soon as we were out of the door, my wife having already grabbed a bunch of important things that I would have forgotten, she received a text from a friend in the Sacramento area who was offering us a place to stay. I am very grateful for this, because had we had no prior destination in mind- we were going to just go South and try to find a place that would accommodate the two of us, our dog, and our cat.
From our house to our friend’s is normally a 45 minute drive, but due to the traffic, it took us about three and a half hours to get there. She had a nice air mattress and bedding ready for us. We did have to make a run to Walgreens to buy cat litter and a makeshift box for them. We also got Starbucks because “fuck-it, it’s like two feet away.”
By that time we had learned that the situation at the dam had not been as catastrophic as initially suggested, which was also some relief. We assumed that the evacuation order would be lifted by the next morning.
We finally tried to sleep at about 11:30pm, our dog between us, but I was too anxious to be immediately successful. I ended up taking extra no-go medicine and passed out until around 9AM of Monday, the 13th.
If I had to pick a least favorite kind of person, it would be the kind of person who tells you about the crazy dream they recently had. Dreams are nonsense. There is enough nonsense in the world already. But at risk of becoming that person, I will keep the story of my dream confined to a single sentence: “I was nine years old, back in Ohio, and I was feeding a pig.”
When we woke up, we had coffee. Coffee is mandatory. Hereafter, if I say something to the effect of “I woke up,” just go ahead and assume that I had coffee unless I note otherwise. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter.
We kept up to date on the status of the spillway, and awaited a press conference that was to be held at noon. Noodles (one of my dog’s pseudonyms) played in the yard. I became very frustrated with how quickly the situation had been politicized on social media, and how 4,000 different news agencies published 4,000 different permutations of the same article. I covered all of this in a previous rant so I will say no more here.
The press conference finally aired at around 12:04pm, and almost nothing was said except that the evacuation orders would remain in effect, and that crews were working to repair the damage to the spillway. There had been some confusion that the Dam was failing, but as everyone affected already knew, it was actually the spillway that was failing. The Division of Water Resources and Sheriff’s Departments made this distinction over and over again, as if it mattered. They took a few questions, and dodged providing any useful answers. My opinion of how this press conference was handled is heavily tainted by my opinion of drowning in general, so I have to admit a bit of bias there.
My wife, who has a job in Davis, still had obligations to do that job. So when she left our friend’s house to do job things, Noodles and I went with her. So while my wife was busy with all of that, Noodles and I walked around Davis for a few hours. Since he is a very cute dog, a lot of people like to talk to me about him. So I had a number of lovely conversations with many nice people while walking in a green park in absolutely beautiful weather. No sarcasm. The sun was shining and it was about 64 degrees. Just a gentle breeze. And people in Davis are a little less stabby than those in Yuba City. It was a nice bit of contrast to the chaos of the road the night before, where people had been screaming not-very-nice-words at each other, inexplicably setting off fireworks, and cannibalizing each other’s flesh. Another good thing: It was around this time that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs called to make sure I evacuated safely. The woman on the phone was very nice and seemed legitimately relieved that I was out of the flood zone.
When my wife was finished with her work, we returned back to our friend’s house at around 5:45pm. We continued to maintain situational awareness, but little changed. As Yuba City was under an “evacuation warning,” as opposed to a “mandatory evacuation,” we made the calculated decision to return in order to better prepare ourselves for a future evacuation. This may seem insane, but our reasoning was pretty sound:
- The emergency spillway no longer had water flowing over it, and was unlikely to continue to erode.
- If something catastrophic did happen, Yuba City is far enough south that it would take quite some time for our area to be affected.
- If we waited too long to return, future weather may cause the evacuation to become mandatory. We wanted to be able to secure our second vehicle and some valuables prior to such an order.
So we got back to Yuba at around 7:40pm, which was pretty quick due to the lack of North-bound traffic. I cleaned several weeks of accumulated garbage out of my car and found a gas station that was still open. I paid 2.49 per gallon, which contradicts some reports of rampant price gouging.
As I was pumping gas, a man approached me and asked me for change. I told him that I didn’t have any, but I would buy him food if he needed it. He asked me if I would buy him a cheap can of beer called a Hurricane and a bag of Doritos. Although I was reluctant to provide him with alcohol, I did manage to locate this was Hurricane inside of the gas station, and since it was fairly low-percentage and only $1.99, I went ahead and got it for him. I should note that he was obviously old enough to drink, probably in his mid-50s.
When I brought the items out to him, he thanked me. I asked him if he had a plan to get out of the city if shit hit the fan, and he pointed at the sky and said, “Right there.” I assumed he was pointing at a passing helicopter, so I asked, “Helicopters?”
“Angels, man,” he replied beore staggering off into the darkness. That is simultaneously extremely sad and extremely cheesy, I kind-of thought.
And this is where reality is a dick: although Yuba City was mostly evacuated, the homeless population seemed to be about what it usually is. (As much as I would have liked to have, at the time, tried to work out a plan for this man’s evacuation, I was also very aware that my car with a full tank of gas and copious supplies would be something a scared person might be willing to stab me over. As much as I would like to say that I am a charitable person, I do have a healthy and well-functioning survival instinct, and this guy seemed a little off.) I am certain some of this demographic had been evacuated through charitable effort, but it is concerning that so many people could be in direct risk of death just because they do not have adequate transportation. Everybody knows this already, that homeless populations face a greater risk in almost every hypothetical disaster, but this is the first time I have had first-hand experience with it.
When I got back to the house, I fiddled with my possessed clothes-dryer, trying to ensure that we had clean clothes for future evacuations. My wife gathered keepsakes and valuables that we would rather not leave behind, and packed them.
My classes were still cancelled, so I stayed awake and monitored the media while my wife slept. She still had to work in the morning, so I basically stood ready to wake her up if we needed to bug out.
At around 0400 she awoke, and we conversed about our plans for about an hour. I went to sleep at around 0515, and slept until she left for work at around 0800 on Tuesday, February 14th.
I don’t remember any dreams. Lucky you.
With my wife at work and out of harm’s way, I continued to monitor the situation. I did not want to sleep until after the press conference scheduled for noon.
Noon passed with no press conference, so I sat in my house, super tired, switching back and forth between writing this and working on a pencil drawing (I do art sometimes. It isn’t very good, so put it out of your mind).
Because I have a dark sense of humor, I made my wife a very insensitive Valentine’s day meme. We don’t really celebrate Valentine’s day, so the three seconds of poor judgement that I took to make this represents the pinnacle of my romantic effort insofar as the “holiday” goes.
Finally at 1415-ish, the press conference was held. I had to listen to about five minutes of inter-departmental congratulatory circle-jerking before they announced that the mandatory evacuation order for Butte county was cancelled and that an “evacuation advisory” would be going into effect. Since Butte is north of us, this inspired enough confidence in our own safety that my wife, who returned to Yuba City only moments thereafter, and I decided to take a nap.
Prior to doing so, I was informed by my college that classes will be cancelled until the 21st of February.
So the status as of right now, in short direct sentences:
I am about to take a nap. My wife is taking a nap. We are both in Yuba City. Our cats and dog are with us. They are also safe. They are also taking a nap. Flooding is unlikely before projected winter storms hit on Thursday. We will stay here, except for my wife going to work, until that time. We are maintaining emergency supplies in our vehicles in case evacuation is required. The kennel for the cats is secured in the back of my SUV, and Noodles had substantial space in the rear passenger seating area. They can be loaded in under two minutes.
So, don’t worry about us. If something happens, we can go from asleep to on the road in less than 5 minutes. If we need to do that, we have a few different places we can go. We have paper maps and a rendezvous point established in case my wife and I get separated in a communications outage. We have a duress phrase established. Both of our vehicles are completely gassed-up. Items of value that we will not be taking with us have been placed in a high place.
So to those of you who care, I hope you found it reassuring. To those of you who found it boring, I told you it was going to be boring. You shouldn’t have read it.
Today is Noodle’s 2nd birthday. Here is a picture of him when he was a puppy. I was hoping to take him to PetsMart today to get him a toy, but they are closed.
I’ll do it later. He’s a dog and therefore doesn’t know what day it is.