County Engineer Clyde Pritchard warned on Tuesday, “this is not a drill.” and suggested local residents pack up and head for higher ground. By Wednesday, the situation was even worse.
Overnight, the water level in Mississippi’s Oktibbeha County Lake rose by at least a foot and “meters monitoring the pressure still register heavy pressure on the dam.” On Wednesday morning, a closely monitored mudslide was scarcely three feet from the road.
Since Pritchard briefed officials, law enforcement and reporters Tuesday afternoon, the mud slide continued “to progress toward complete dam failure.” County officials are thinking about upgrading the evacuation recommendation to a mandatory evacuation order as they brace for another 3-5 more inches of rain.
Pritchard noted that he wasn’t being overly cautious with his warnings of an imminent threat. “I’m not in the business of crying wolf,” he emphasized, “this is not a drill.”
The engineer personally examines the levee after every storm. Inspections Tuesday morning “showed that water was seeping between the dam and the bedrock underneath it, pushing sand boils to the surface and forming a crack on the slope.”
Here’s the mudslide they’re watching at the dam. Just spoke with Sheriff Gladney and he said all they can do is watch and keep folks updated. Saturday will be a big concern with a good bit of rain forecast. pic.twitter.com/H3CPt8Qda0
— Ryan Phillips (@JournoRyan) January 15, 2020
Emergency Management Director Kristen Campanella assured residents that “the county will have someone at the lake continuously monitoring the levels of the water and the condition of the slide.” Roughly 130 homes are in the path of a potential deadly flood.
“The recommendation to evacuate will become a mandate if water starts streaming out of the levee,” Campanella said.
Here's an aerial photo of the dam in Oktibbeha County. Officials continue to monitor. There's still potential for a dam breach. After an inspection at 7:00 this morning, pressure continues to build.
There are no mandatory evacuations at this time, only recommended evacuations. pic.twitter.com/K9amsgLYMW
— MSEMA (@MSEMA) January 15, 2020
Terra Robinson, a teacher Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary School, scurried home as soon as she heard the news. “I had to stop my lessons and see what I needed to do, if I needed to pack my things. I’m trying to pack up all my family members’ pictures.”
Her niece, Talekia Wordlaw, helped round up their children and booked a hotel room in a nearby town but she was frustrated that they didn’t have more time to prepare. “What if the levee broke (today)?” Wordlaw said.
“We would have had no way to get the elderly people out of the community, the kids wouldn’t have been able to come home safely on the school buses and the roads would have been closed. The county needs to do something about this.”
Some locals aren’t worried enough to leave yet, but say they’re prepared to go if they have to. “As soon as I see the water coming, it’s time to go,” Leroy Johnson said. County supervisor Marvell Howard replied that “if someone sees the water coming, time to leave has run out.” He equates it to a tornado warning, where “conditions are right,” but it might not happen.