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Calif. residents urged to avoid leaky dam

/ Source: The Associated Press

Seepage through a dam had stopped Saturday but most residents of Corona remained out of their homes in a voluntary, precautionary evacuation.

Although a mandatory evacuation was canceled, people were being urged to stay away from homes and a mobile home park until Monday afternoon while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released millions of gallons of water to relieve pressure on the 64-year-old Prado Dam.

Residents of the area 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles appeared to be heeding the warning.

“It seemed like handfuls were coming in and going out but it seemed like the vast majority were staying out,” Corona Mayor Darrell Talbert said.

The dam problems followed a series of storms that turned Southern California into one big flood zone. The torrential rain triggered a mudslide in the tiny town of La Conchita that killed 10 people and damaged several homes. In all, 28 deaths around the state were linked to the storms.

Police evacuated about 2,300 people from Corona on Friday morning after a dramatic increase in the amount of water seeping through the face of a temporary earthen dam at a construction site next to the main dam.

At its height, however, the seepage was only 10 to 20 gallons a minute, said Fred Egeler, a corps spokesman.

“There was never a threat to the dam. It was a minor seepage,” he said.

And he said it had “virtually stopped” on Saturday. “Our contractor worked all night placing dirt on the downside face of the dam,” he said. The dirt was reinforced with a fine mesh material.

The corps was releasing 10,000 cubic feet of water every second into the Santa Ana River, or about the amount that would fill a backyard swimming pool. By Saturday morning, the 1,000-acre reservoir had dropped more than six feet and Egeler said the release would continue into Monday. The reservoir is up to 500 feet deep.

Storms move east
The storms that saturated California also drenched the Midwest, and rivers in parts of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio were still above flood stage Saturday. The Ohio River had earlier flooded riverbank roads and homes in parts of West Virginia.

Workers in western Kentucky stacked thousands of sandbags Saturday to reinforce a temporary levee protecting the town of Smithland from the Ohio River. The National Weather Service said the river would crest there Tuesday at 8 feet above flood stage, a day earlier and one foot lower than previously expected.

A few miles downstream at Paducah, Ky., 14 of the city’s floodgates were closed Friday for the first time since 1997, leaving a few businesses and one house exposed to the river. The Ohio was nearly 8 feet above flood stage Saturday at Paducah and is expected to crest Tuesday at more than 9 feet above.

Even though no more rain is expected for several days, Indiana’s Wabash River is expected to hit its highest level since February 1985 this week south of Lafayette, said meteorologist Chad Omitt at the weather service in Indianapolis.

Water swamped roads and threatened some homes in low-lying areas around Lafayette on Friday, but no evacuations had been ordered, said Alden Taylor of the State Emergency Management Agency.

Governors of Ohio and Indiana declared emergencies in flood areas earlier in the week, and on Friday Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels asked President Bush to declare at least 64 counties a major federal disaster area.

In Ohio, residents of three small eastern communities were surrounded by water Saturday although conditions were improving in the rest of the state.

About half of the 6,500 residents of Mineral City, Wilkshire Hills and Zoar in Tuscarawas County opted to stay home rather than evacuate even though the Tuscarawas River blocked roads to the towns, making them accessible only by boat, said Rob Glenn, spokesman for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.