CORRECTED: Weakened dam threatens Massachusetts city
(Corrects spelling of dam name in second paragraph)
By Jason Szep
BOSTON (Reuters) – A 100-year-old timber dam strained by
record rainfall threatened to break and flood the southern
Massachusetts city of Taunton on Tuesday, forcing police to
evacuate 2,000 people and close much of the city.
Massachusetts emergency management officials said the
Whittenton Pond Dam in Taunton, a city of 49,800 people about
33 miles south of Boston, could fail any time in the next 24 to
48 hours. Record rainfall swelled rivers and ponds across
northeastern United States last week.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed that this thing is able to
hold,” Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told a news conference at
Taunton’s city hall. “There is every prospect that it will give
way and we’ll have a very significant water event.”
Romney said water levels behind dam receded by about a
quarter of an inch on Tuesday but that water was already
flowing under the dam and through weak areas of the structure.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood advisory
that said the situation was “extremely dangerous” and “life
threatening.” A makeshift shelter was opened for residents who
live along the Mill River downstream from the dam.
With memories still fresh of Hurricane Katrina and the
flooding of New Orleans, authorities in Massachusetts activated
emergency response teams. National Guard troops prepared for a
larger evacuation and rescue divers stood ready.
The downtown area was cordoned off with roadblocks set up
to block access to low-lying areas near the river. Schools,
downtown businesses and many government offices were closed.
“It’s basically bulging,” said Peter Judge, spokesman for
the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
“Obviously the flooding we’ve had is something it has not
had to face in recent years,” he added. “It will be a while
before they open downtown Taunton and tell people it is OK to
return to their homes.”
The National Weather Service said a breach of the dam could
unleash a wall of water up to 6 feet high and flood low-lying
Torrential rain and floods swamped cities across the
northeastern United States last week, washing out roads,
triggering mudslides, leading to power outages and forcing
hundreds of people to flee their drenched homes.
Romney declared a state of emergency in Taunton and has
estimated the week of rain and floods likely caused $6.5
million in damage in Massachusetts, a threshold that would make
the state eligible for federal aid.
“They are working upstream with dams that hold back other
ponds and other lakes. They are trying to slow the other water
down. But it is not going to be a solution because there is
only minimal amount of capacity up there,” said Judge.