CORONA, Calif. – Thousands of residents who were evacuated from the path of a leaking dam were urged to stay away through Monday after authorities released a torrent of water to ease pressure on the barrier.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (search) on Friday unleashed more than 10,000 cubic feet of water per second to relieve pressure on the dam 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
"That's like a swimming pool every second," Corona Mayor Darrell Talbert said.
The water gushed into the Santa Ana River (search), whose banks were deep enough to handle the flow without flooding, said Lt. Col. John Guenther, deputy commander of the corps' Los Angeles district.
Police evacuated 2,300 people but called off the mandatory evacuation order late Friday afternoon. However, they advised residents not to return until Monday as a precaution.
The dam problems followed a series of storms since last week that turned Southern California into one big flood zone. The torrential rain triggered a mudslide in the tiny town of La Conchita (search) that killed 10 people and damaged several homes. In all, 28 people died in the state from the storms.
Residents of La Conchita were allowed to return to their homes Friday, but it will take two to four more weeks for water service to be restored and two to seven days for gas and electricity to be turned back on.
Alan Sloan, 33, returned to his rented mobile home Friday, but he didn't stay long.
"I'm out of here," the roofing contractor said as he quickly packed his belongings. "I have no shame in admitting that I'm terrified of that hill, no shame whatsoever. It was a very humbling experience."
In Corona, nearly 1,000 homes in town and about 100 people from a recreational vehicle park in an adjoining area were evacuated, forming a slow caravan of cars that snaked through the neighborhoods.
At an evacuation center in the high school gymnasium, Corona officials defended their decision to evacuate.
Corona Police Chief Richard Gonzales said seepage at the base of the dam had increased fivefold after it was detected Thursday evening. The seepage came from a temporary earthen barrier protecting construction crews who were relocating outlet channels and raising the dam's height by 28 feet.
"I'm sorry if we woke you up, I'm sorry if we got you out of your home. ... I wasn't gonna lose any of you, period," he said to a round of applause.
"We're here to tell you the threat was real, the danger was real and we did the right thing," Talbert said.
The mayor said he was told by the Corps of Engineers that a dam break would have wiped out the neighborhoods in 2 1/2 minutes.
"That's not a risk I'm willing to take," he told people gathered at an evacuation center.
At Corona Senior High School, cheerleaders played games with evacuated children while adults snacked on doughnuts and coffee or slept on cots as they awaited news of their homes.
Barbara Johnsen, 53, said a friend called her at 3 a.m. to say police were evacuating the mobile home park where she has lived for 20 years.
After checking with police to make sure it was true, she gathered up some clothes, photographs, important documents, her cat, Bussie, and her 80-year-old mother, Gurry Johnsen.
"When they can say there's absolutely no danger, then I'll go back," she said.