TAUNTON, Mass. – Water pressing against a battered wooden dam continued to recede Wednesday, and officials planned to pump more out, in hopes of doing repairs before an expected second weekend of heavy rain.
The dam's status remained "critical," and a state of emergency was still in effect in this working-class city about 40 miles south of Boston, Mayor Robert Nunes (search) said.
Officials fear a dam break would send a 6-foot wall of water surging through downtown Taunton, about a half-mile downstream.
Nunes said evacuations would remain in effect for thousands of people living below the 173-year-old Whittenton Pond Dam (search), and the downtown business district would remain closed. Schools were closed for a second day Wednesday.
The mayor said pumps would remove more than 32,000 gallons of water a minute from an area upstream of the dam, piping it around the dam to the river below. Civil engineers do not believe that extra water will cause any downstream flooding.
"This discharge will help relieve pressure and headwater on the Whittenton dam, and will allow the necessary evaluations and repairs," Nunes said.
Crews already have been working to ease pressure on the dam by allowing water through it and another dam farther upstream.
A storm system could drop rain on the area by this weekend, National Weather Service meteorologist Matthew Belk said. After that, Hurricane Wilma (search), after crossing Florida, could head north through the Atlantic toward New England.
Taunton, population 50,000, will remain under a state of emergency until early next week, Nunes said. He could not say when residents and business owners would be allowed back.
Taunton saw more than 7 inches of rain last weekend, bringing the monthly total to more than 11 inches and pushing the Mill River to near-flood levels. The situation worsened Tuesday after some of the dam's timbers washed away.