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Mass. Town Evacuated Over Threatened Dam


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Mass. Town Evacuated Over Threatened Dam





TAUNTON, Mass. (AP) - A damaged, century-old dam continued to hold Tuesday as the water level behind it was reduced, but an evacuation order remained in effect and schools and highways were closed amid fears of a flood.


Mayor Robert Nunes said the wooden Whittenton Pond Dam upstream from the city on the Mill River had developed more failures about 2 a.m.


However, gates in the dam were opened to release water from Lake Sabbatia and relieve pressure on the structure, and the reservoir's level had fallen several inches by late morning, officials said at a briefing.


``As the water level decreases, it will be taking a load off the structure and that's what everyone is looking for,'' said Matthew Bellisle, a private engineer who inspected the dam.




``The condition of the dam at Whittenton Mills has not deteriorated significantly over the past several hours,'' Nunes said.


City officials said Monday that the 12-foot-high dam was buckling, and later a timber column washed away and officials warned that the entire structure could fail. Early Tuesday, more wooden timbers failed, allowing additional water to leak through and under the dam.


``I've got my fingers crossed that this thing is able to hold,'' Gov. Mitt Romney said Tuesday morning. ``Water's going under the dam. It's going through some areas that are weakened and there's every prospect that it will give way and we'll have a very significant water event.


``On the other hand, a few of us can hope that it hangs together and it ties together as long as possible and that the water is able to leak out in a relatively controlled manner,'' he said.


Taunton, a city of nearly 50,000 people, has received 11 1/2 inches of rain this month, including more than 7 inches from Friday through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.


Nearly 2,000 people were evacuated from homes near the river on Monday.


Police knocked on Paul Wapenski's door early Tuesday and urged him to leave, but he decided to stay because he lives just upstream from the dam and didn't think his home was in danger.


``If (the dam) goes, I want to see it go,'' said the 55-year-old welder.


Shops were mostly deserted Tuesday on lower Main Street, where Scott Weyant said he didn't have flood insurance for his karate studio.


``I never figured I'd need it,'' Weyant said. ``We're in the city. You don't get flooded in the city.''


The state Highway Department closed roads into Taunton and the Massachusetts National Guard sent teams to the area.


The newsroom of the Taunton Daily Gazette was evacuated, though several reporters stayed at the scene, publisher John Shields said. The paper is published at its sister newspaper in Fall River.


Taunton, a former 19th-century manufacturing hub about 40 miles south of Boston, lies at the confluence of the Mill and Taunton rivers. The working-class city was last flooded in March 1968 when the same dam was breached. City Councilor Charles Crowley, a local historian, said there was catastrophic flooding in February 1886 following several days of rain.


The dam was built to power local textile mills. A factory operated by silver manufacturer Reed and Barton now sits adjacent to the dam, but the dam is no longer used by industry.


It is one of about 3,000 privately owned dams in the state, Romney said. The dam was inspected two years ago and was considered in fair condition, he said.


Some repairs were made since then, Romney said, but ``this water was more than had been expected or anticipated.''


Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie and Richard Lewis contributed to this report.



10/18/05 12:39



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