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Dam bursting fears ease near Willow River – but high waters a concern elsewhere


Fears that a dam separating the Willow River from a reservoir in east-central Minnesota receded last night as water levels dropped.

A voluntary evacuation in its namesake town Willow River was put in place Wednesday afternoon as the swollen water had authorities concerned that the dam would break.

But on Wednesday evening, the Pine County Sheriff's Office said the water in the dam area was "dropping slowly."

Residents of the town, about 100 miles north of the Twin Cities along I-35, had been told to prepare to evacuate, after thunderstorms earlier this week sent water levels surging.

This picture from Steve Swanson shows how the river leading up to the dam usually looks – hugely different from the picture at the top of the page, taken on Tuesday after reservoir water had flowed over the tops and side of the dam.

The nearby Kettle River, of which the Willow River is a tributary, had risen to 17.73 feet deep as of Wednesday, a rise of 12 feet from three days earlier, and there were fears of widespread flooding if the dam couldn't hold.

But the National Weather Service says that as of this morning the Kettle had fallen to 16 feet.

The Pine County Sheriff says that County Road 61 is still closed at Willow River after it flooded and areas of asphalt caved in.

"The road will reopen after inspection by the highway department and deemed ok for vehicle travel," it added.

"Do not attempt to drive around the barricades please. It is still uncertain if the water washed out any of the base under the asphalt. Be safe, stay alive, do not drive around closed road barricades."

Problems in Kanabec County

The situation is pretty bad in nearby Kanabec County, which saw flash flooding on Wednesday.

According to early reports on Thursday, the area could be set for worse as Fish Lake has crested and flood waters are rising in the city of Grasston.

A warning in Crow Wing County

High waters in Crown Wing County have the sheriff's office warning people to be very careful if out on the water.

Docks are under water and shore erosion has been reported to the sheriff's office. Strong, frequent waves can cause more damage.

"Please use caution when boating and be mindful of the boat waves washing into shore," the sheriff's office says.

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