Pressure building on rural north Mississippi dam

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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — A rain-swollen lake in rural north Mississippi rose at least a foot overnight, keeping heavy pressure on a dam that is in danger of failing, state and local officials said Wednesday.

An inspection of the Oktibbeha County Lake dam on Tuesday led to warnings that it was in danger of failing and recommendations that people in the area evacuate. A breach would affect an estimated 130 properties and nine highways.

“There is a still the potential for a dam breach," Malary White of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said in an email.

A release from Oktibbeha County's emergency director, Kristen Campanella, said the lake level had risen a foot overnight.

Evacuation was not mandatory but was recommended, she said. She said as many as 25 residents have told law enforcement officials they would consider evacuating if conditions worsen.

At least one resident told The Associated Press she wasn't going anywhere.

“I’ve been here 30 years," Valerie Hogan, 70, said as she sat in a car on a dirt road, less than a mile from the dam. She said she's seen workers making repairs and she's confident it will hold. "Same lake, same arrangement. It’s no problem.”

The dam is an earthen structure with a two-lane road atop it. And traffic was still being allowed on that road Wednesday morning.

Lavar and Mae Frances Bibbs, a married couple, walked from their home near the dam to the top of the levee to check out the water level Wednesday morning. Bibbs said they are staying put for now. But he was also watching the weather.

“The forecast says it’s supposed to be raining again, 100%, but right not it’s just at a standstill,”Lavar said. “I’m hoping everything calms down and everyone ca feel safe around here.”

Mississippi has one of the highest numbers of dams that pose dangers and are in poor or unsatisfactory condition, according to a two-year investigation by The Associated Press.

The Oktibbeha County Lake dam was rated “fair” the last time it was inspected in 2016. A February 2019 report made available to the AP on Tuesday noted ongoing seepage problems that the owners — the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors — said they lacked money to fix.

The warnings in Oktibbeha County came as heavy rains caused problems around the state. Shelters were opened and sandbags were handed out in the Jackson metropolitan area Tuesday. Flash flooding remained a possibility in parts of the state Wednesday.

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Associated Press reporter Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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AP’s data customers can access an exclusive data set showing high-hazard dams across the country, including in Mississippi. If your news organization is not yet licensed to access our data distribution, please contact apdigitalsales@ap.org for enrollment details.

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