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Moore officials, National Guard scramble to save dam

Posted October 11
Updated October 12

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— National Guard members threw sandbags Tuesday afternoon on a growing hole in a crumbling dam near Vass in hopes of preventing the structure from giving way entirely.

Meanwhile, Moore County had pumps running to drain enough water from Lake Surf to get the lake below the spillway so the damage to Woodlake Dam could be repaired.

State dam inspectors and county officials said a breach in the dam could cause as much as 2 to 3 feet of additional flooding for communities downstream along the Little River that have already been swamped by heavy rains from Hurricane Matthew.

According to the National Weather Service, water could travel at about 4 mph and would take about five hours to arrive in the area of the Lower Little River if the dam were to give way.

Crews Tuesday night described the hole in the dam as being the size of two ambulance trucks, but 24 hours earlier, the hole was described as being the size of a compact car.

"Our prayer is that the dam holds because, if the dam goes, I'm terrified that my house is going down the river," said resident Susan Rogers.

Spring Lake officials ordered an evacuation of several neighborhoods late Monday, and police and firefighters went door to door to get people out.

Town officials said Tuesday morning that the dam had been stabilized and that no further evacuations were needed, but Moore County officials said hours later that the hole in the spillway continues to widen under the weight of the swollen lake.

"There is still a legitimate danger you could have a serious breach of the dam, and it could fail," Nick Picerno, chairman of the Moore County Board of Commissioners, said Tuesday afternoon. "At this time, the prudent thing is not to let people in that area."

About 30 evacuees are in a shelter in Carthage, but Pierno said about 80 residents have refused to comply with the evacuation order.

Spring Lake officials said level of the Lower Little River had decreased Tuesday night, and evacuation orders were lifted. Residents are still being told, however, that they must be prepared to evacuate if a significant release from the Woodlake dam occurs.

"It's a disaster that could happen. We're praying it does not happen," Picerno said.

The evacuation shelter at the Spring Lake Recreation Center, at 245 Ruth St., will remain open until the risk of a dam breach is no longer present, officials said.

Last year, the dam was one of the largest high-hazard dams in the state to receive a poor rating from regulators. High-hazard dams are those where loss of life is likely if the structure fails.

Last summer, state inspectors found cracks and "a void of unknown size" in the concrete spillway as well as seepage along the dam's earthen slope. The dam's owner had to begin fixing the dam by Oct. 27, 2015, but a timetable for making repairs was never communicated to nearby homeowners.

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