PLACER COUNTY, Calif. -- A couple displaced by the Oroville Dam evacuations almost had their Valentine’s Day wedding plans canceled -- were it not for a number of fellow evacuees and Placer County workers who helped put on an impromptu wedding at the evacuation center.
Henry Rueda and now-wife Leotta's marriage was 10 years in the making, but Sunday they were forced to evacuate their Olivehurst, California home for the Placer County Fairgrounds, with about 300 other displaced residents.
Authorities ordered people to leave the area when a hole developed in an eroded area of the spillway, raising concerns that the spillway could fail and flood communities downstream.
Henry told KTXL they chose Valentine's Day for the wedding because Leotta thought it was a special date.
“I was just going to have a small little wedding for me and her, a couple of our friends," Henry said. "The Oroville Dam, that destroyed our Valentine's Day."
Their big day was ruined -- or so they thought. With a single Facebook post, Henry and Leotta's wedding was back on.
"We reached out to the community," said Chris Gray-Garcia, Placer County’s public information officer. "They've been fantastic in responding with any donations they could possibly ask for. We thought they'd be happy to help in this case and they sure did.”
Evacuees themselves became makeshift wedding planners. One by one, donations poured in to the evacuation center. A tuxedo and dress, food and drink, flowers, even a hotel room and a limo all donated.
"I've never been in a limo,” Henry said. "A limousine waiting for me to take me to the hotel is like … wow."
The wedding was complete with a band playing, flower arrangements, glasses ready to toast and guests straining to see the bride as she walked down the aisle. One might never have guessed all of them were strangers to each other just a few hours before.
Of course, despite all they've been through, one wedding staple this couple was never without was love.
"I know we had our ups and downs, but I will always love you,” Leotta said through teary eyes to her husband on the makeshift altar.