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Wall of water a fear for N.D. community

| Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 9:27 p.m.

BISMARCK, N.D. — A 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 still are told to stay away from their homes.

Steady rainfall from Friday to Tuesday dumped about 9 inches of rain on parts of Pembina County, swelling creeks and rivers, and sending water flowing across the countryside from west to east in the east-sloping county. The small town of Crystal was flooded on Tuesday, forcing a few residents from their homes.

Residents in Cavalier — about 85 miles north of Grand Forks — were told to evacuate Tuesday night as a precaution, should the Renwick Dam on the Tongue River overflow.

The evacuations included two or three patients at a hospital and 63 people in a nursing home and assisted-living center, said county Emergency Manager Andrew Kirking. They were taken either to care facilities in surrounding communities or to their relatives' homes.

Local, state and federal officials built an emergency levee with the help of the National Guard to prevent floodwaters from eroding the emergency spillway at the earth-and-concrete Renwick Dam. The levee was being reinforced and monitored Wednesday as the area enjoyed sunshine instead of rain clouds for the first time in five days.

“The rising water has slowed overnight. It is still rising, but it is not nearly at the rate it was yesterday at this time,” Kirking said. “We are very, very cautiously optimistic now that the water has slowed.”

A slow leak in the dam would lead to a slow rise of water over a long period of time downstream, Kirking said.

“Should we have a catastrophic failure, the worst-case scenario, we would see a massive amount of water,” he said. “We could see a foot of standing water in the six miles from (the dam) to Cavalier.”

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