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Albemarle Road reopened as dam threat fades

The immediate danger has passed at a failing dam near Albemarle Road, but authorities still have plenty of work facing them at an east Charlotte pond that threatened to spill out of its banks Thursday evening.

And officials are concerned about forecasts of more heavy thunderstorms this afternoon and evening.

A portion of Albemarle Road was closed for more than 12 hours after an employee at the Lake Point Apartments noticed that a dam at the southern edge of a large pond was crumbling.

If the dam had given way, officials say, water would have poured across Albemarle Road and likely flooded a number of nearby apartments and homes. Instead, authorities brought in 15 pumps and removed millions of gallons of water from the pond overnight.

They were able to lower the water level more than 4 feet, John Fishburne, a city water official, said about 5 a.m. Friday. At that point, state transportation officials agreed it was safe to reopen Albemarle Road.

But the problem remains.

"Water is flowing under the concrete spillway," said Tamera Eplin, of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. That indicates the spillway is in the process of failing."

The dam failure was no surprise. Eplin said engineers had found problems with the dam, apparently several weeks ago, and owners of the apartment complex had agreed to fix the spillway in August.

Officials ordered people to evacuate 32 apartments and three homes near the pond, although several residents who gathered near the pond before daybreak Friday to watch the pumping operation said they took their chances and didn't leave.

Eplin said water was pumped from the pond to "get pressure off the spillway, and to slow down the failure of the dam."

A slow-moving thunderstorm with locally heavy rain caused water levels in the pond to rise rapidly Thursday afternoon. Rain gauges operated by the federal government at nearby Charles T. Myers Golf Course and Piney Grove Elementary School showed less than a half-inch of rain fell during the storm. But radar indicated much heavier amounts fell in a small area near the pond.

Now officials are concerned about today's weather. The National Weather Service says a strong upper-level low pressure system will cross the region later today, bringing widespread showers and thunderstorms. Heavy rain again will be a major threat from today's storms.

Crews got a surprise during the overnight cleanup effort. As the water level gradually fell, officials noticed the top of a car starting to show in the pond. Charlotte firefighters plan to check the car today, but it is assumed the vehicle was abandoned.

STORMS ELSEWHERE

Thursday evening's storms also kept authorities in Catawba County busy.

Thomas Raper, a spokesman for the Hickory Fire Department, said firefighters were sent to about 20 emergency calls between 4:50 and 6:30 p.m. Hickory needed help from two neighboring fire departments to keep up with the calls.

Raper said a tree fell into a vacant house on 12th Street NE, causing considerable damage. Another tree knocked down power lines on North Center Street, and lightning triggered a fire that caused about $30,000 damage to a house in the Moore's Ferry community.

Catawba County officials also reported 1-inch hail in St. Stephens and trees blown down in downtown Conover and in the Lake Hickory Country Club area.

Later Thursday night, a severe thunderstorm roared across York, southeast Mecklenburg and Union counties. The National Weather Service said rainfall came down at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour.

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