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Residents, officials keeping a close eye on structural issues at the Arkabutla Lake dam

Structural issues were found at the dam on Tuesday, prompting emergency repairs and several road closures.

TATE COUNTY, Miss — Emergency repairs are underway at the Arkabutla Lake dam in North Mississippi after engineers found structural issues that could have led to a failure.

Engineers say while a failure isn't likely right now, the situation is serious enough that emergency repairs are needed.

Surrounding roads have been blocked off, and nearby popular recreation areas have been closed to the public while these repairs are completed.

If the dam did break, areas along the Coldwater River below the dam would flood. This would affect large parts of the Mississippi Delta, including the counties of Tunica, Tate, Coahoma, and Quitman.

In a theoretical disaster plan, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency calls the failure of the Arkabutla Lake dam a "worst-case scenario" that would lead to millions in damages.

That's exactly why area residents are thankful the issues were found before the situation got worse.

"This is very critical,” resident Kim Chhay said. “I mean if the dam broke down, it would be disastrous. Millions and millions of gallons of water-gushing down and flood everything down from the spillway or anywhere where it broke -- it would cause a lot of damages."

Leron Weeks with the Tunica County Emergency Management agency agrees. But, officials are working hard to prevent that worst-case scenario from becoming reality.

"The dam had a void in it and the plan was to do a controlled release of the water to lower the water to 210 feet elevation," Weeks said.

This means the lake level will have to decrease nearly 20 feet to relieve stress on the dam and to allow the repairs to take place. That release of water will likely cause a rise in the Coldwater River, but nothing as serious as if the dam were to completely fail. 

"There's a lot of water coming down the Coldwater River that could cause possible flooding but according to the Corps of Engineers they are not projecting any flooding off of this event,” Weeks said. “But I always tell my citizens always be careful and also just be aware of what's going on and everything. We are monitoring the river levels every day."

Residents said they’re thankful the Army Corps of Engineers is working to prevent the dam breaking at all.

"The folks down below like in Marks and little towns like that will be very appreciative of that because it could put them in some bad trouble if it were to break," resident Eddie Vandyke said.

As of Wednesday evening, officials said the failure of the dam is not likely right now, but if the situation changes, warnings will be issued for impacted residents.

If you live along the Coldwater River below the dam in North Mississippi, officials say you should keep checking back for more updates.

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