SPRING LAKE, N.C. (WNCN) — The hole in Woodlake Dam in Moore County has gotten bigger and evacuations are still in place, according to officials.
The hole in the dam was the size of car but has since grown to the size of two ambulances. Members of the National Guard are on the dam putting sandbags in place to help secure it.
Helicopter crews flew missions Tuesday night over the dam to survey the damage and also flew a drone to take a look at the dam.
Sgt. Mark Dutton with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission said crews will take a look at the dam to see how it held up overnight first thing in the morning Wednesday.
Officials began running pumps Tuesday to try to lower water levels and take some pressure off the dam. Engineers will be on site Wednesday.
Despite the threat of the dam breaking, not all residents have heeded the evacuation orders in the area.
At least 78 people have refused to leave the area despite a mandatory evacuation being in place.
“Would you want me to leave your kids in that zone? I think not. So that is what I tell them but its ultimately up to you, the resident,” said Nick Picerno, chairman of the Board of Commissioners. “It’s going to be real hard for me to ask those guys to go back in and rescue you after we’ve told you that this could happen and you did not want to leave.”
Those evacuations began on Monday after the National Weather Service said the dam was at “extreme risk” of failure following “issues” discovered by inspectors.
Monday going into Tuesday, conflicting information has been released concerning the dam’s status.
Early Monday afternoon, Spring Lake officials said the dam was stabilized and residents could return home on a case-by-case basis.
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It was a much different picture Monday morning when Gov. Pat McCrory told residents near the dam to leave the area.
“Get out. Get out now,” he said. “That is unacceptable. You are putting not only your life at jeopardy, you are putting our emergency rescue crews at jeopardy.”
The National Weather Service then said Tuesday the dam could fail at any time and issued a flash flood warning for the communities near the dam.
The reservoir would empty in about 30 minutes leading to communities downstream being flooded by two to three feet of additional water in the even of a breech, Spring Lake officials said.
“If that dam gave way, they’re gone. I want you to understand, they’re on a dam that if that thing broke, they’re gone, and there’s no rescuing them probably because you’ve got millions of gallons of water that’s going to take them away. They’re risking their life to get this thing done,” Picerno said of the 30 to 40 National Guard members putting their lives at risk to protect the communities downstream.
Moore County Public Safety staff and Department of Environmental Quality Dam Safety staff worked on the dam through Monday night.
D. Scot Brooks with Moore County Public Safety said the dam did not breech but inspectors found issues that “must be addressed.”
Moore County emergency officials later said Monday night that an issue was found with two gates at the dam Monday afternoon, but that the situation was “stabilized.”
Spring Lake official Carrie DeGarmo sent out a news release late Monday stating that they had issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents and businesses along the Lower Little River downstream from the dam.
The areas included in the mandatory evacuation were the Bragg Estates community on Vass Road, residents on West Manchester Road from the old Fort Bragg Water Treatment Plant to N.C. Highway 87, and the Riverside Mobile Home Park along the Lower Little River in Spring Lake.
Residents like Jennifer Bibey have been sleeping in their cars after being evacuated.
“Me and my entire family, we all live in the same area and we all slept in cars. My dad is disabled, my uncle – he’s disabled. He’s had strokes, heart attacks, he’s got a pacemaker and we were all sleeping in vehicles,” Bibey said.
She said she is sleeping in her vehicle along with her daughter and fiance.
Bibey was told about a nearby shelter but refused to leave her dog with Animal Control.
Several other families have been sleeping in vehicles at a local gas station.