Tens of thousands of people in storm-scarred Puerto Rico were forced to evacuate Friday afternoon as a major dam in the northwestern part of the island was found to be on the verge of collapse.
Floodwaters from Hurricane Maria have left the Guajataca Dam under extreme stress in the aftermath of the storm, leading the National Weather Service to say that it is in “imminent” danger of failing, according to The Washington Post.
"This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION," the National Weather Service wrote. "All the areas around the Guajataca River must evacuate NOW. Your lives are in DANGER."
The 345-yard dam, which was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1929, holds back a man-made lake covering about 2 square miles.
An engineer inspecting the dam reported a "contained breach" that officials quickly realized was a crack that could be the first sign of total failure of the dam, said Anthony Reynes, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service.
"There's no clue as to how long or how this can evolve. That is why the authorities are moving so fast because they also have the challenges of all the debris. It is a really, really dire situation," Reynes said. "They are trying to mobilize all the resources they can but it's not easy. We really don't know how long it would take for this failure to become a full break of the dam."
The Guajataca dam had suffered damage to its "structural integrity," according to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. It is estimated that 70,000 people in the municipalities of Quebradillas, Isabela and San Sebastien could be affected if the dam collapses.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.