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Wood Village volunteer assists evacuation efforts near California dam

Okay Hill likes to lend a hand when disasters affect people.

COURTESY PHOTO - Okay Hill stands at Ground Zero in New York, New York during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. For the record, 'Okay' is a family name, passed on from Hill's grandfather. Okay Hill jokes that he's lived through the four seasons of emergency volunteering: fire, flood, ice and tornado.

The Wood Village retiree has deployed to 39 different disaster sites as an American Red Cross first responder, and he's still ready to respond when the need arises.

This time, he headed to north-central California, where some 188,000 people have been evacuated from flood zones downstream of the Oroville Dam on the rain-and-snowmelt-swollen Feather River.

Local residents were allowed to return to their homes on Wednesday, Feb. 15.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - In an undated photo, Okay Hill, 63, poses with a friend in an emergency shelter in California."It's a huge dam," Hill says. "There's a lot of water going over where it isn't even supposed to. If that gets eaten away, it could be a huge disaster."

On a normal day, the 770-foot-high dam holds back 1.1 trillion gallons of water. Last week, the reservoir was operating at 151 percent of capacity, according to an article by news website Vox. com. As of press time, the volume had dropped to 80 percent thanks to emergency repairs.

Water should be channeled through two floodgates, but a 300-foot-wide crack temporarily closed the main chute. Engineers were also worried that the back-up spillway might be in danger of failing.

Reached by phone on Tuesday in Sacramento, Hill explained he was prepared to serve as a shelter manager for 500 to 600 people.

"I think of these people that I go out to help as family, and if my family's in trouble, I want to go where they are," he says. "I'm going to sleep where they sleep. I'm going to eat what they eat — and everything like that."

Hill got his start as an unpaid worker for the Red Cross in 2005, when he served as a kitchen support aide in Beaumont, Texas, during the aftermath of Hurricane Rita. It was a blustery year, and Hill also ended up responding to hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.

Currently retired, the 63-year-old notes that he has provided disaster relief "only" three times this year.

He previously worked as a volunteer communications coordinator for the Redlands Fire Department and as a personal assistant for an industrial real estate broker. He moved to Wood Village two years ago to be with his sister.

"Even though (people) are in this extremity, I'm happy to be there for them," he says.