College Lake Dam ‘stable’ after heavy rain

Posted at 8:08 PM, Aug 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-03 20:14:03-04

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Heavy rains sent water spilling over a dam in Lynchburg, Virginia, spurring fears that it could collapse, but Friday officials said the 84-year-old structure was "currently stable and ... there is no immediate fear of dam failure."

The situation was much more dire Thursday, when flooding prompted some evacuations in the city of roughly 80,000 people.

That night, the National Weather Service reported the College Lake Dam could fail, and if it does, "the water depth at Lynchburg could exceed 17 feet in 7 minutes."

The earthen dam was intact Friday morning, the weather service said in an update, but water has been moving over it and into Blackwater Creek about 2 miles southwest of downtown Lynchburg.

City officials said they found no seepage and that engineers would continue to monitor conditions around the clock.

"(Saturday) Crews will open a small sluice on the spillway in order to begin dewatering the reservoir," a statement said. "Once the water levels are lowered, then initial repairs can begin on the dam embankment and the roadway."

Evacuees cannot return home until they get the green light.

Rain has saturated parts of the East for days, with flash-flood watches in effect for millions from Georgia to Vermont.

Some of Lynchburg were flooded. City officials posted pictures Thursday of rescuers using a raft to take families from a flood-threatened apartment complex as well as the partial collapse of one road into an adjacent creek.

Other photos showed water rushing Thursday night over the dam and Lakeside Drive, which separates College Lake and Blackwater Creek.

Joni Organ posted video on social media of water thundering powerfully down a swollen Lynchburg creek.

"I think I know some people who are going to be moving tonight," Organ says in the video.

Should the dam collapse, floodwaters would move from the creek into the James River near Lynchburg's business district.

The city's Department of Emergency Services urged people living on a number of roads near the dam to evacuate Thursday night. The department's Piper Van dePerre told CNN affiliate WDBJ in Roanoke that crews are working with a list of 124 residences that need to be evacuated.

The city near the Blue Ridge Mountains has received plenty of runoff from recent rains, and 4 to 6 inches of rain fell in the area Thursday evening, filling College Lake beyond its capacity.

A flash-flood warning is in effect until 2 a.m. Saturday in Lynchburg. A line of showers and storms moved through the area Friday afternoon.

The University of Lynchburg, which is near the lake, said it has not ordered an evacuation because it is not downstream of the dam, according to affiliate WSLS in Roanoke. The school said it is open Friday, though its entrance on Lakeside Drive was closed.

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