Weakening dam forces evacuations in Louisiana

HAMMOND, La. - A dam that was damaged by Hurricane Isaac and was in danger of breaking forced the evacuations of thousands of Louisiana residents.

The dam along the Tangipahoa River is at the Mississippi and Louisiana state line.

As many as 60,000 residents whose homes were in danger of flooding if the dam breaks were given 90 minutes to evacuate. Many crammed into a nearby elementary school that was turned into a shelter. The mandatory evacuation applied to homes within half-a-mile on both sides of the river.

"If the dam breaks, we're going to have to move. We'll be flooded out," said Malcolm Picquet, one of the evacuees. "Everybody is worried about their homes and if they're going to be able to go back to it. It's packed in the shelter and there's a lot of tension."

Bo Burns lives on the banks of the river. He and his mother worked Friday to rescue their dogs.

"My dogs is my kids," Burns said. "They're part of my kids. I've never left the dogs."

Burns said he was surprised by how high the water was.

"I've lived here 27 years and I ain't never seen water come up on this road," he said.

Officials said the dam was holding early Friday, but there were signs of crumbling. Boulders have been placed on the dam to help make sure it does not fail.

Crews spent the day removing debris from under a bridge that goes over the river so the water can flow downstream as fast as possible.

Louisiana's governor said engineers are conducting a controlled release of water around the dam to lower the water level by 8 feet so crews can shore up the dam.

On Friday morning, the levels in the lake had gone down. By Friday afternoon, the lake levels had stabilized and that eased pressure on the dam.

According to the governor of Mississippi, those downstream need not worry because the breech is controlled.

"It would not be a wall of water moving toward Tangipahoe Parish," Gov. Phil Bryant said.

   Isaac dumped as much as 16 inches in some areas, and about 500 people had to be rescued by boat or high-water vehicles.

The storm has been blamed for six deaths.

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