Heavy rains and a landslide in the western North Carolina mountains “compromised the integrity” of a dam and triggered urgent calls for mandatory evacuations.
The National Weather Service cited reports early Wednesday from McDowell County emergency management officials that “water is spilling around the sides of Lake Tahoma dam. Evacuations ongoing south of the dam.”
Emergency officials say the dam is “at risk of imminent failure” and the weather service extended a flash flood warning for central McDowell County until 12:30 p.m. EDT.
“This is a life-threatening situation. Heed all evacuation orders immediately! If you are not threatened by floodwaters, shelter in place.”
Richelle Bailey, spokeswoman for McDowell County’s emergency management department, said state engineers were examining the dam on Wednesday morning. She said about 2,000 people live in the evacuation area and there are about 200 people in shelters.
A statement posted at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday on the McDowell County 911/Emergency Management Facebook page urged patience as workers inspect the structure in the morning hours.
“We understand people are getting anxious concerning the length of the evacuation order. Please be patient as personnel are working as quickly as possible to determine whether the incident at Lake Tahoma has stabilized,” the statement said
“These inspections must be done during daylight hours. We will update everyone as soon as possible. Once again please be patient. Hundreds of emergency personnel have worked through the night conducting evacuations and swift water rescues. They continue to respond to calls for service related to this storm.”
Bailey said that William Kehler, the county’s emergency services director, was to return home on Wednesday after serving on a team deployed to Hawaii to help emergency workers deal with the volcano there.
Landslides, evacuations, flooding
Alberto, the deadly subtropical depression drenching the Southeast, pounded the rugged mountains in North Carolina, spawning the landslides, evacuations and flash flooding.
The National Weather Service warned residents to stay off the roads as the increased threat for landslides and debris flows continues through Wednesday night.
“We have issued a flash flood emergency for McDowell County in NC,” the service tweeted. “Flash flooding, landslides and rapid rises on waterways are an immediate threat to life and property. Do not attempt to drive unless you are fleeing flood waters.
In Rutherford County, the Town of Lake Lure and Chimney Rock Village declared a state of emergency as the Rocky Broad River surpassed seven and a half feet, officials said on the town’s Facebook page.
They said the Hickory Nut Falls Campground and the Rivercreek Campground have been evacuated.
“The Town has had to repeatedly open the floodgates just to balance the continually rising river levels from the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge,” the town said. “Residents living along the river and in other low-lying areas or areas prone to landslides are urged to take higher ground immediately.”
There is also a flash flood emergency in Marion County, NC, about 20 miles west of Asheville, with 4 to 6 inches of rain fallen, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen reported. Life-threatening flash flooding is being reported along the Catawba River and its tributaries there.
Emergency responders also were conducting several water rescues through McDowell County but no injuries or fatalities were reported, the agency said.
Alberto had weakened to a subtropical depression Monday but millions of people in parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky were still under flash flood watches for much of Tuesday.
Heavy rainfall drenched parts of northern Georgia, the western Carolinas and Tennessee on Tuesday, increasing the threat of flash flooding in those areas, the National Weather Service said.
After moving into the Tennessee Valley, the system is forecast to head into the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region Wednesday and Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Florida, Mississippi and Alabama — the three states bearing the brunt of the storm — declared emergencies ahead of Alberto.
On Monday, two journalists from South Carolina-based CNN affiliate WYFF were killed in Polk County, North Carolina. A tree fell on their SUV as they covered the hazardous weather, the station said.
Alberto made landfall Monday afternoon as a subtropical storm in the Florida Panhandle, reaching maximum sustained winds of 45 mph as it arrived in Laguna Beach, according to the hurricane center.
Hurricane season is set to begin officially Friday.