As evacuation orders remain in effect for nearly 200,000 persons, the U.S. Defense Department says it stands ready to assist in operations surrounding a failing dam in northern California.
California Gov. Jerry Brown sent President Trump a request for federal assistance. Brown said at a news conference that he’s certain Washington and California can work together – despite Brown’s harsh criticism of the Trump administration.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said DoD officials are watching closely as the dam erodes.
“The dam is failing, and evacuation orders have been given to close to 200,000 people in the area,” he said. “While the [water] depths are reported to be decreasing, we do note that rain is expected later this week.”
The dam began overflowing into a spillway over the weekend, and officials spotted possible weak spots in the spillway, prompting the massive evacuation order. On Monday, officials were able to begin drawing down the lake, but weather forecasts called for heavy rains in the next week.
DoD is in touch with the California National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the commander of U.S. Northern Command, Davis said. Northcom provides command and control of Defense Department homeland defense efforts and coordinates defense support of civil authorities.
“We’ve dispatched liaison officers to the state emergency operations center, and are prepared to deploy any Title 10 capabilities – federal military – quickly if requested,” Davis noted, adding that the entire California National Guard, which comprises about 23,000 service members, is on alert status.
FEMA and DoD coordinating officials stand by to put state and federal asset requests into action as they arise, he said.
“If the dam should break, there are FEMA, California National Guard and DoD personnel who will all be prepared to respond,” the Pentagon spokesman told reporters. “We are leaning forward and are ready to assist if needed.” Types of help DoD is prepared to provide include aviation, airborne imagery and water rescue -- both swift water and still water -- as well as mass care and shelter assistance, he added.
DoD officials are trying to anticipate such requests before they come, Davis said, and is keeping a dialogue open to quickly get its forces ready should they be needed.
“We recognize that one of our most solemn duties is to assist the American people in their greatest time of need,” the captain said. “While the state, first and foremost, has the responsibility for doing that, there’s a federal element, should they need it, which is ready to respond quickly.”