LAUREL, Md.-- (WUSA9) High water escaping through a concrete joint in the Howard T. Duckett Dam late at night forced operators to open floodgates urgently late Wednesday after erosion around two key buttresses supporting the dam was detected.
The resulting downstream flood in Laurel forced the quick evacuation of at least 700 residents overnight as business owners scrambled to move property out of the way with only about and hour notice before flood waters arrived.
"We wish we could have given them more time but we felt a sense of urgency and we had to act when we did," said Jim Neustadt of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.
It was the first time in at least 21 years the dam had been taken to "level-2 status", according to operators. Level 2 is defined as "potential dam failure situation rapidly developing."
But car dealer Fred Frederick, who lost 24 vehicles in the flood complained the WSSC should have lowered water in its Rocky Gorge Reservoir days before the forecast heavy rains fell.
"They've got a lot of alibis and excuses," complained Frederick. "But the bottom line is they flooded Laurel and they didn't need to do it."
WSSC officials countered that pre-releases of water had been occurring since Sunday but the seepage and erosion detected Wednesday night was unexpected.
The dam was never in danger of failing and is safe and structurally stable thanks to the quick actions of operators, officials said.
An ongoing construction project at the dam, which is visible from I-95, is designed to fortify it to withstand exponentially more severe floods in the future."
"A few months down the road and this would not have been an issue," Neustadt wrote in a WSSC press release .