Release of water from Mississippi park lake continues

By The Associated Press

MCCOMB — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said Friday the controlled release of water will continue from a lake swollen with rain from the remnants of Isaac inside a southwest Mississippi park.

Bryant and local officials met Friday to discuss what steps to take. Bryant said in a news release that the decision was made to continue with the release of water from Lake Tangipahoa.

“Our state and local agencies have done a tremendous job and have acted quickly and efficiently to respond to threats from this storm. Lake levels are dropping slowly, and teams are moving forward with enacting the controlled release that will reduce the threat from this situation,” Bryant said.

The earthen dam — a levee on which a two-lane roadway runs — has not been breached.

On Thursday, authorities began repairing two 70-foot-wide areas where mud and grass slid off after two days of Isaac’s hammering rain. The work continued overnight into Friday.

As of 6:15 a.m., the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said lake water levels continued to drop. The lake stood at 332.7 feet and had dropped 2.4 feet since 9 p.m. Thursday. There was some rainfall at the lake over night, but less than 0.25 inch, officials said.

MEMA said engineers believe the controlled release efforts should drop the lake level below normal spillway levels.

Officials were placing boulders on the dam and using bulldozers and trackhoes.

“We’ll remove some of the roadway and allow some of the pressure of the high water to simply go into the fields, lowering the threat,” Bryant said Thursday at a news conference at the lake.

Bryant said he had talked to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal about the dam. Precautions are being taken to protect residents downstream from the 700 acre lake and near the Tangipahoa River should the dam fail.

About 20 nearby homeowners were strongly advised to leave until the controlled breech was completed sometime Sunday. Pike County officials said some residents did leave their homes.

Ramie Ford, director of Mississippi state parks, said the plan was to slowly let about 8 feet of water out of a lake that is 3 to 4 feet higher than normal, reducing stress on the levee.

“The water flow will be controlled by us and not Mother Nature. So no one should be in harm’s way,” Ford said.

Preliminary models indicated that a successful controlled release would not significantly affect water levels in Louisiana, Jindal said. Even so, he and Parish President Gordon Burgess strongly encouraged Louisiana residents near the structure to heed warnings to evacuate. They ordered the immediate evacuation of Kentwood, a town of about 2,200, after flying over Tangipahoa Parish.

People in other areas along the river, from Kentwood south to Robert, were asked to voluntarily leave because of uncertainties about the dam. The evacuation order did not include the parish’s major city, Hammond, which has about 20,000 people and is home to Southeastern Louisiana University.

It will be a few days before evacuees can return, Jindal said.