On Christmas Eve morning, 1955, Sutter County was reeling from an overnight levee break on the Feather River at Shanghai Bend that flooded 90 percent of Yuba City and drowned 37 residents. More than 600 people were rescued from trees and rooftops by helicopter.
It remains California’s largest loss of life due to a levee break, and was a rallying call to improve flood control in the Sacramento Valley, including the construction of Oroville Dam. Only half-finished, the dam prevented another Christmas time flood in 1964, when Yuba City was evacuated again.
In the last decade alone, an investment by California taxpayers and Sutter and Butte county property owners of about $400 million has led to armoring of the Feather River west bank levees from southern Butte County to south of Starr Bend in Sutter County. A high-tech slurry wall designed to prevent under seepage and through seepage has been installed, making this 40-mile stretch of levees among the strongest in the United States. This work is the result of the creation by Sutter County, Butte County, and the cities of Biggs, Gridley, Live Oak and Yuba City, and Levee Districts 1 and 9, of the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency.
The Christmas Eve flood of Sutter County in 1955 ruined Christmas for Sutter County’s children. In February, Walt Disney sent his Mouseketeers to Yuba City as part of a very special late Christmas celebration.