October 19, 2005

Buckling Massachusetts dam stabilizes

BOSTON (Reuters) - A 173-year-old timber dam threatening to
break and flood a Massachusetts city stabilized on Wednesday,
though much of the city remained closed and about 2,000 people
were still under evacuation order.

The Whittenton Pond Dam in Taunton, a city of 50,000 people
some 30 miles south of Boston, remained weak and authorities
were concerned about forecasts for heavy rain this weekend.

"As of this morning, the situation has been described as
stabilized. The water level continues to be reducing a little
bit," said Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts
Emergency Management Agency.

The U.S. National Weather Service warned on Tuesday that at
breach of the dam could unleash a wall of water up to 6 feet


A flash flood warning remained in effect through Wednesday
night, the weather service said in a statement issued on
Wednesday morning. National Guard troops placed sandbags along
the river bank.

Overnight, emergency workers attempted to ease pressure on
the dam by opening floodgates and reducing water flowing from
upstream dams after as much as 12 inches of rain drenched parts
of northeastern United States last week.

Judge said there was still a concern over a rotted wooden
beam. At least one other support beam was washed away.

Roadblocks in central Taunton shut access to low-lying
areas near the river and schools, businesses and many
government offices were closed.

The evacuation order could last several days and engineers
decided any attempt to reinforce the structure could cause it
to collapse.

With memories still fresh of Hurricane Katrina and the
flooding of New Orleans, authorities in Massachusetts activated
emergency response teams.