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Dam failure risk near NE North Dakota city may be easing; city mulls return of 1,300 evacuees

  • 69e9a3564299a011320f6a70670072d7.jpg

    This Wednesday, May 22, 2013 aerial photo shows the Renwick Dam, west of Cavalier N.D., in Pembina County. The dam that threatened to give way and flood a North Dakota town was holding back the water on Wednesday, though the 1,300 residents of Cavalier were still being told to stay away from their homes. (AP Photo/The Grand Forks Herald, Eric Hylden) (The Associated Press)

  • 65edc7154299a011320f6a70670025b1.jpg

    In this Wednesday, May 22, 2013 aerial photo, floodwater from heavy rains in northeast North Dakota surround a farm west of Cavalier, N.D., in Pembina County. The dam that threatened to give way and flood Cavalier was holding back the water on Wednesday, though the 1,300 residents of the town were still being told to stay away from their homes. (AP Photo/The Grand Forks Herald, Eric Hylden) (The Associated Press)

The threat of a possible dam failure on a river near a northeastern North Dakota city appears to be easing, and officials were considering Thursday when 1,300 evacuated residents would be able to return to their homes.

The level of the water behind Renwick Dam on the Tongue River began dropping at mid-day Wednesday, Pembina County Emergency Manager Andrew Kirking said early Thursday.

Local, state and federal officials, with the help of the National Guard, built an emergency levee on Tuesday following five days of steady rain, to try to prevent floodwaters from eroding the emergency spillway at the earth-and-concrete dam six miles west of Cavalier.

"The situation is improving," Kirking said. "Of course there is still a threat level, but it is starting to dial back."

Officials planned to meet Thursday morning and hoped to set a time when the 1,300 residents of Cavalier, who were evacuated Tuesday night, can return home.

Downpours between Friday and Tuesday dumped about 9 inches of rain on parts of Pembina County. The runoff pushed up the level of Renwick Lake by about 17 feet, but that had dropped by about a foot by early Thursday morning, Kirking said.

In Crystal, a town of about 160 residents about 15 miles to the south, six families evacuated their homes Tuesday when the town was flooded by rain runoff. That water began receding Wednesday, and on Thursday "there is no longer water entering the city," Kirking said.

"Their situation is improving dramatically," he said. "We have ordered in several cleaning kits from the American Red Cross in Grand Forks, to help citizens begin the cleanup process."

The National Weather Service forecast shows a chance of rain over the Memorial Day weekend in North Dakota, but Kirking said officials have talked to forecasters and do not view it as a threat.

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