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Ca. Residents Panic Over Test Siren

January 31, 2000

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) _ A test of a siren system to warn of a failure at Casitas Dam sent panicked residents rushing for higher ground, trampling fences and jamming streets.

People within a nine-mile area of the Ventura River valley heard blaring sirens late Saturday afternoon and a voice from a loud speaker declaring: ``This is an emergency. Head for high ground. You have one hour.″

Radio and newspaper announcements of the test appeared last week. And the loud speaker warning was prefaced with the statement, ``This is a test,″ but many people apparently did not hear it, said sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Meyers.

Worse, the warning message malfunctioned and kept replaying, said Jeff McCracken, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Residents in the area about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles said it played for about 15 minutes.

``People were going crazy,″ said Dee Peterson. ``There were people in wheelchairs trying to roll down the hill, mothers pushing their babies like mad in strollers with blankets on top of their shoulders.″

Emergency telephone lines were jammed with anxious callers, and police and sheriff’s deputies were called out to help calm the panic.

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