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Dams collapse washes out road, empties pond
Flood damage not on scale authorities had feared
Several men gather Monday to inspect what is left of a dam that held back an 80-acre irrigation lake on Georgia Highway 17. The dam collapsed under pressure Saturday night and washed away, leaving a gaping hole. - photo by JEFF HARRISON/staff

A massive spill of water into the Ogeechee River on Saturday night, when a dam holding back an irrigation lake failed, did not produce the flooding officials feared might occur.

Still, areas surrounding the breach were not left unscathed.

The dam, which held at bay approximately 80 acres of water 24 feet deep, let loose at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, sending large trees and other debris sweeping across Georgia Highway 17 in Screven County, near Old Ogeechee Road, just north of the river.

The road and railroad tracks between the lake and river were damaged by the powerful wave, according to Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn. Bulloch County assisted in response efforts.

Work began almost immediately at both structures to make repairs.

Georgia Department of Transportation crews were on the scene most of the day Monday to reconstruct portions of Highway 17 that were completely washed away.

The road is currently blocked to thru traffic, after water washed dirt from underneath shoulders of the road and caused some pavement to tear from the highway, leaving a hole in the asphalt.

"We will have to rebuild that and repave parts of the road to make it passable again," said Michael Taylor, the special outfit manager with GDOT's District 2. "We're trying to get this open to traffic as soon as possible."

According to Taylor, the highway "will probably be closed until about the middle of next week, depending on the weather situation."

Ultimately, the damage was minor compared to the concerns some safety officials expressed leading up to the collapse.

Residents of areas close to the lake — near the Cooperville, Dover and Rocky Ford communities — were advised to evacuate. Several roads were closed for flooding, including Bernard Smith Road near Mallard Pond Road, and Lakeview Road near Clito.

And, the National Weather Service in Charleston, S.C. issued a revised flash flood warning after the dam failed saying the Ogeechee River would rise rapidly, and homes in the Dover area would be the first to see flooding conditions.

According to Wynn, flooding never became a serious issue after the breach.

"We just had no idea what 80 acres worth of water might do," he said. "But we didn't have any problems as a result of the dam breach. We haven't received any calls from anyone along the river to report flooding."

Measurements taken after the dam failure show the river at 11 feet in Rocky Ford, Wynn said. That is 2 feet shy of flood stage.

As of Monday afternoon, no injuries were reported by Bulloch County Public Safety or Screven County Emergency Management.

As for the dam, several rain showers in recent days added strain on the 36-year-old structure owned by farmer Herbert Jacobs. Jacobs, 77, said the dam gave little indication, before problems emerged Saturday, that it was faltering.

The event is a major blow to Jacobs and his family, who use the water for irrigation of crops they sell at a nearby shop, as well as for fishing.

"It's been an experience. It is a tragedy," he said, at the store Monday. "This really hurts."

Jacobs said the family will try to rebuild the dam.

"We've got to," he said.

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454


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