Potential dam failure causes Louisiana evacuation



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Posted on August 30, 2012 at 6:37 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 30 at 9:09 PM

KENTWOOD, LA - Hurricane Isaac is history in southeast Louisiana, but it left one problem no one expected.

The Percy Quin Dam at Lake Tangipahoa in Mississippi suffers from structural damage and could fail, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said, though he insisted the threat is not imminent.

"It's crazy," Dawn Hayden said. "Everybody's just freaking out, not knowing where to go."

On Thursday morning, the town of more than 5,000 - about an hour inland from New Orleans - faced a mandatory evacuation order because of the dam's condition.

The evacuation area ran from Kentwood, Louisiana to Robert, Louisiana along the river. Officials went door-to-door alerting people of the evacuation and the governor activated evacuation transportation, including flights and buses out of the area.

"There's all our personal items," said Emily Peek, an evacuee, "Guns, TVs and computers."

Peek packed pictures, a grill and that rifle among other things. She and her family had to use a jon boat to get it all down their flooded driveway to higher ground.

"A lot of friends came by," Semyon Peek said. "Neighbors helped. We got a lot of stuff out of the house. We're thankful for that."

Heavy rain from Hurricane Isaac already sent the Tangipahoa River out of its banks. Now that dam upstream in Mississippi is in danger of failing.

Should that happen, it could raise the water level to 17 feet, Gov. Jindal added.

"Our country people - so to speak - that are outside the city are just moving to higher ground," said Chief Tommy Simmons, Kentwood Fire Dept.

In all, Simmons said about 1,000 people in his coverage area were told to leave. Statewide, a dam break could affect about 50,000 people in Louisiana, Jindal said.

"To me, it's just part of it if you live on the river," Emily Peek said.

Her home has never flooded in the 11 years she has owned it. Regardless, her family is leaving with all it can manage.

"When the water stops coming up and it recedes," Peek said, "we'll come on back there.

The Tangipahoa River is at 11 feet right now, and is still rising, expected to crest at 15 feet. That happens every few years, residents said.

The State of Mississippi said the dam, located at Percy Quinn State Park, has some structural damage.

Engineers there plan to breach part of it and release about eight feet of water into a heavily-wooded area, rather than sending it downstream to towns like Kentwood.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com