Clay officials on alert for potential flooding from Oktibbeha, Tombigbee

Clay County EMA Director Torrey Williams (right) meats with supervisors and officials as the county prepares for potential flooding in the event of a dam failure at the Oktibbeha County Lake. (Photo by Donna Summerall, DTL)
Daily Times Leader

Clay County officials are concerned for the impact a dam breach could have on their residents if the Oktibbeha County Lake dam fails and are advising residents in the area to use caution.

Officials from Oktibbeha County noticed problems with the dam early Tuesday and have warned residents the dam’s failure is highly probable.

Separate from the 130 households or addresses in Oktibbeha County in danger if the Oktibbeha County Lake dam fails, 50 structures, approximately 40 of which are residential, could also be impacted in Clay County.

Torrey Williams, the Emergency Management Agency director for Clay County, said if the need for evacuation arises, temporary shelters will open across the county. However, the potential shelter spaces for county residents have not currently been determined, but several potential locations are on stand-by.

“We don’t have a specific place tied down,” Williams said. “We basically have just about all of our shelters that we have an agreement with already on standby in case of emergency.”

Alongside offering travel resources for individuals with disabilities who need assistance in the case of an evacuation, the West Point-Clay County Animal Shelter is also prepared to care for some animals since the available shelters will not allow pets.

“We will push the information on shelter locations through the media, radio, and according to the action plan, there will be various checkpoints where emergency personnel can direct people where they need to go,” Williams said.

Williams encourages residents to have an evacuation plan, as well as to have their important documents easily accessible. Residents should also closely watch media sources for weather updates and check the West Point Clay County EMA Facebook page.

Residents can also sign up for information releases through CodeRED via the city and county websites’ resident’s page.

Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott said they are working closely with various local agencies to prepare and make sure everyone is ready at any point.

“In the middle of the night that water can come up real fast, and that's when people get trapped,” Scott said. “We are trying to work with all local agencies to make sure we are as prepared as possible.”

Due to the previous rainfall and predications of another three to five inches on Saturday, Williams said the Tombigbee River’s water level is precarious and depends on if the storm moves through fast or slow.

“We have a unique situation going on here because we have the dam failure impacting us and are also having to watch for potential flooding on the Tombigbee,” Williams said.

While the Tombigbee River is not flooding at the moment, Williams said they are getting everything in order in case multiple areas flood simultaneously.

“They are sending as much as they can downstream, but as of when I checked the levels this morning, it was a little over six feet from being at flood stage,” Williams said.

After the 2019 February flood, Williams said approximately 98 homes on the river were impacted, but it is unclear if and how the potential conditions of the river will impact residents.

“It is too far out for us to pinpoint how much rain we will actually get, but it is something we are keeping on our radar,” Williams said. “I checked the gauge this afternoon and the levels were going down.”

Depending on the rainfall, Williams said they are expecting the river’s levels to continue receding, leaving the dam as the primary concern.

“We are working for the precautionary on both ends in case we do get that rain, and by getting that rain, the dam fails, and then the river comes up leaving us with flooding on both ends of the county,” Williams said.

Reiterating Williams’ sentiment, Scott noted there is nothing more to do now than wait and take the necessary precautions to stay safe.

“It's a wait and see thing,” Scott said. “This is a wild card at the moment, and we just have to watch, but I ask everyone to not try to cross flooded roads. It is very easy to get swept up, and it could cost you your life.”