Dozens of Niles Township residents are back in their homes after being evacuated Monday night when the retaining wall of nearby dam threatened to break.
The Niles Township Fire Department says an eight foot section of an earthen dam gave way Monday night on the Dowagiac River, just off Pucker Street.
A campground downstream was evacuated first and saw substantial flooding thanks to this weekend’s record rainfalls.
Emergency workers evacuated 49 homes and two businesses when the water collapsed part of the wall. Workers from Fort Wayne responded and dumped truckloads of concrete, rock, and dirt to shore up the wall. There is still water spilling over the top of the Pucker Street Dam, but officials say it is no longer a threat to homes and businesses.
Crews used those materials plus a 130 foot crane to quickly fix the problem. If it had not been fixed, that earthen wall that was weakening could have completely collapsed, sending a wall of water down the river.
“I’ve taught swimming and spent half my life on the water, I love the water,” said Jo Flock who evacuated her home.
“But I’ve got a great respect for it. It means get out when you are told to get out,” she added.
Businesses in the possible path of the water’s crushing flow also got out of the area. Packard Industries packed up and moved its workers away from the danger area.
“They asked us to please close down due to the fact that the dam may break,” Karen Mark told NewsCenter 16. She says they didn’t take any chances and listened to that suggestion, sending workers home for the day.
The Red Cross had set up a shelter at the Wesley United Methodist Church for anyone who had to leave their home because of the evacuation.
Niles township leaders say this is a temporary solution and crews will soon permanently repair the 100-year-old dam. The leaders say there is actually a study in the works to convert the Pucker Street Dam to a hydroelectric dam.