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Partial dam break on Yantic River in CT causes evacuation due to potential 'life threatening' floods

Waters from the swollen Yantic River flood a residential area near the Fitchville Pond Dam in Bozrah, Connecticut.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Waters from the swollen Yantic River flood a residential area near the Fitchville Pond Dam in Bozrah, Connecticut.

A partial dam break Wednesday left thousands without power and led to an evacuation order for hundreds of people near the Yantic River in southeastern Connecticut.

Water was seen breaking through the privately-owned Fitchville Pond Dam early Wednesday morning.

The emergency prompted a statewide response as the river, which runs by Norwich, rose to its highest level in decades and the structural integrity of the dam remained uncertain.

Officials warned of potential catastrophic damage should the dam fail. An emergency evacuation order was issued for hundreds of people in Bozrah and Norwich in New London County.

Engineering crews worked throughout Wednesday to erect a temporary containment structure to pump out water and inspect any structural damage.

A nearby power substation was turned off, cutting power to thousands of residents and a middle school was opened as a shelter for evacuating residents.

By late Wednesday afternoon, officials said the flood was receding and that it was safe for affected residents in Bozrah and Norwich to return to their homes.

"We're monitoring the dam and we're making every effort to make it secure," said Chuck Lee, an official with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Public schools in town were closed due to the weather, which included heavy rains Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, as well as inches of snowmelt.

"The initial flooding is subsiding," said John Salomone, Norwich's city manager. "We're concerned more about the capacity of the dam to sustain this."

Power restored to thousands as conditions at dam stabilize

Waters from the swollen Yantic River in move through Yantic, Connecticut on January 10, 2024.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Heavy rains and snow melt overnight caused the Yantic River to rise to its highest water levels in decades, flooding nearby roads.

Norwich Public Utilities posted Wednesday morning it had powered down its Bean Hill substation as a precaution due to nearby flooding and leaking at the dam.

About 5,000 customers were without power.

Power was restored by late Wednesday afternoon once conditions at the dam, which sits north of the substation, had stabilized and floodwaters from the storm began to recede, officials said.

Earlier in the day, town leaders urged caution about bringing the substation back online prematurely.

"Right now it's stable. But if you re-power the station and then water infiltrates it, then you're out for months because you'll have an explosion there," Salomone said. "Without power then it's more drying out the equipment."

Heavy rains and snow melt overnight caused the Yantic River to rise to its highest water levels in decades.

"When Norwich has experienced major floodings, the river has risen to a level of about 11 feet. And earlier today, it was closer to 14," said Chris Riley with Norwich Public Utilities.

Dam is more than 150 years old, records show

DOT, DEEP, and local emergency officials gather at the Fitchville Pond Dam on the Yantic River in Bozrah, Connecticut after flooding impacted neighborhoods along the river.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
DOT, DEEP, and local emergency officials gather at the Fitchville Pond Dam on the Yantic River in Bozrah, Connecticut after flooding impacted neighborhoods along the river.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was on scene and is working with contractors on an emergency basis to shore up the dam, according to spokesperson.

"They're going to be putting in a cofferdam," said Lee with DEEP. "That will give us access to the dam, so we can do a better inspection of what actually happened and caused that leak today."

Fitchville Pond Dam is a privately-owned dam. The dam is directly upstream of Fitchville Road (State Route 608, Norwich Colchester Turnpike).

DEEP lists the dam as one whose failure would entail "high hazard potential" with possible loss of life, major damage to habitable structures, utility facilities and roadways.

It was last inspected by a DEEP contractor in 2022, the agency said.

The current structure was first built in 1871, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' National Inventory of Dams.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. Connecticut Public's Kay Perkins, Jeni Ahrens and Patrick Skahill contributed to this report.