Schools and businesses were closed for a second day and thousands of residents still couldn't go home Wednesday as a weakened timber dam threatened to give way and spill a 6-foot surge of water into downtown Taunton. The city remained under a state of emergency and there was still a significant amount of water behind the 173-year-old Whittenton Pond Dam on the Mill River, Mayor Robert G. Nunes said. "However, we are winning," he added. The situation in this working-class city 40 miles south of Boston was under control but "extremely volatile," the mayor said Wednesday morning.
"This is minute-by-minute," he said.
The wooden dam buckled earlier in the week under the pressure of the heavy rain that flooded parts of the Northeast, prompting the evacuation of thousands of residents. The threat worsened after some of the dam's timbers broke and washed away.
The dam's spillways were opened to release water and the reservoir behind the structure, Lake Sabbatia, had dropped more than half a foot over 24 hours, officials said. However, Matthew Bellisle, an engineer hired by the dam's owner, said the water level was still several feet above normal.
"We're erring on the side of caution," the mayor said. "We don't want to jump and say everything is OK, and, God forbid, have something happen."
City officials toured the dam site Wednesday morning with Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank and Gov. Mitt Romney, the AP says.
The city center was empty Tuesday afternoon and police barricaded nearby streets. Highways remained closed.
"It's better to be safe than sorry," said Brian Bishop, who has a curtain and bedding store on Main Street. "I've got a lot of money to lose if this thing goes and water comes tearing down the street."
Crews had opened floodgates in the wooden dam to lower Lake Sabbatia and adjusted the flow from a second dam upstream on the Mill River.