Massachusetts City Reopening After Flood Threat

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press Writer

City officials reopened neighborhoods surrounding a storm-weakened wooden dam Friday, four days after evacuating the area because of fears that a collapse would flood downtown Taunton with several feet of water.

Workers pumped millions of gallons of water from the rain-swollen lake above the Whittenton Pond Dam and began shoring up the battered structure Friday ahead of the new round of heavy rain forecast for the weekend.

Some 2,000 people in the city of 50,000 had been told to leave their homes Monday. About half were allowed back Thursday night, but hundreds of residents who live close to the dam were asked to stay away. Mayor Robert G. Nunes lifted their evacuation order Friday.

As downtown businesses reopened, Anthony Lentine welcomed the breakfast crowd back to his deli, estimating he lost $1,000 for each of the three days he was closed. But he didn't blame town officials for playing it safe.

"After seeing what happened in New Orleans, God forbid, we wouldn't want anything like that to happen here," he said.

Authorities cautioned that the threat had not entirely passed for the working-class city south of Boston. A state of emergency will remain in effect until early next week.

"We still have the danger we had before," Fire Chief Joe Rose said. "Now we're trying to fix it."

Water levels rose as the area got more than 11 inches of rain this month, including 7 inches last weekend.

The pumping that began Thursday -- combined with dry weather -- greatly relieved the pressure on the 173-year-old wooden dam. But another wave of foul weather expected to arrive this weekend could push area waterways back to flood levels. With the water level lowered, officials hope to make some repairs before then.

Authorities said that if the dam gave way, it could send a 6-foot wall of water surging through downtown Taunton, about a half-mile downstream.

"We feel very comfortable with the decision we've made," the mayor said. "We are seeing tremendous progress."

Thomas Shaughnessy, 25, was headed home from a high school-turned-shelter with his girlfriend and their cat, but he wasn't convinced they're completely safe.

"I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "I'm scared, but I think our mayor made the right choices."


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