Deteriorating Dam Imperils Taunton

A flash flood warning has been declared in Taunton, Massachusetts, where a 12-foot dam on the Mill River is in danger of collapsing. Already, 2000 residents and business owners have been evacuated from the area around the dam.

Bob Oakes speaks with Martha Bebinger who is covering this developing story.From the Associated Press:

Mass. Dam on Swollen River Deteriorates

Associated Press Writer

TAUNTON, Mass. (AP) — A dam on the rain-swollen Mill River deteriorated overnight and Taunton prepared for the worst Tuesday, evacuating residents, canceling classes and closing off downtown amid fears of a wall of water up to six feet deep.

Mayor Robert Nunes, at a hastily called news conference, said the situation at the wooden Whittenton Pond Dam upstream from the city took a turn for the worse about 2 a.m., resulting in an increase of water flow.

"The city of Taunton still is in a state of emergency," Nunes said. "If the dam goes, it will create massive flooding along the Mill River and into the downtown area."

Lake Sabbatia, the body of water behind the dam, had gone down about an inch overnight, Fire Chief Joseph Rose said. But rain began falling again as dawn broke. Officials were trying to relieve pressure on the dam,
roughly a half-mile upstream from downtown, by tweaking the flow between it and a second dam upstream, Rose said.

Officials said that if the Whittenton Pond Dam burst it could unleash a wall of water up to six feet high and flood neighborhoods and downtown Taunton.

"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. "If that were the case, we'd
all breathe a great sigh of relief."

Dive teams were standing by if rescues proved necessary, and a shelter had been set up at the local high school, manned by the Red Cross.

Nearly 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes near the river on Monday when emergency management officials warned that the dam had lost a timber column and could break within 24 hours. The National Weather
Service issued a flood warning, calling the situation "extremely dangerous."

Police and firefighters were going door to door, urging residents to go stay with relatives and friends or at the shelter in the fieldhouse at Taunton High School.

"It's been intense," said Susan Jones, who lives a few hundred yards uphill from the dam, in an area that had not been evacuated. "We heard the helicopters all night long. I laid awake half the night waiting for someone to knock on the door."

The state Highway Department closed roads leading into Taunton and the Massachusetts National Guard dispatched crews to the area to assist with
any last-minute evacuations.

"We're very concerned about public safety," Romney said after surveying the dam late Monday. He returned early Tuesday morning and met with the mayor at City Hall.

This program aired on October 18, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Martha Bebinger

Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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