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Immediate threat around dam is over, but authorities warn residents to 'remain alert'

Mudslides and flooding crippled the North Carolina mountains and foothills Tuesday night, blocking roads, closing schools and prompting temporary evacuations around a dam that was believed in danger of collapse.

A landslide had compromised the integrity of Lake Tahoma Dam in McDowell County, the National Weather Service reported early Wednesday. Mandatory evacuations were underway at 2 a.m. around the dam.

However, McDowell County Emergency Management sent out a message shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday noting an engineer had found the dam was still safe and the evacuation order was canceled.

"Please remain alert for additional updates, as additional rainfall is expected this afternoon," said McDowell County EMS.



N.C. Department of Environmental Quality staff members were also inspecting two other dams in the area, North Fork near Montreat and the dam at Lake Lure. Preliminary information was that the owners of those dams were taking appropriate measures to prevent problems, DEQ spokeswoman Bridget Munger said.

Fears of a collapse at Lake Tahoma began around midnight, when witnesses reported water was spilling around the sides of Lake Tahoma dam. McDowell County Emergency Management sent out a tweet saying failure of the dam was "imminent."

"Act now to preserve your life!" said two stern tweets issued by the National Weather Service early Wednesday. "This is a life-threatening situation."

Multiple water rescues have been reported in McDowell County, including two state Department of Transportation workers who had to be rescued after a dump truck responding to a mud slide was pushed off the road into the Catawba River. The pair climbed through a passenger window and stood on the side of the truck in the water until they were rescued, officials reported.

Between 6 and 8 inches of rain fell in some areas of the mountains over the past 24 hours, officials reported.

A U.S. Geological Survey automated rain gauge about 2 miles south of the Tahoma dam measured 3.88 inches of rain over the last 24 hours.

McDowell County Emergency Management said the evacuation order will remain in effect until dam inspectors view the area under daylight conditions.

As a result of the threat, McDowell County schools were closed Wednesday and classes at McDowell Tech were canceled, reported McDowell County Emergency Management.

A flash flood watch remains in effect for all counties surrounding Mecklenburg and a flash flood warning is in effect for Rutherford County until 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, with small streams expected to rise rapidly and flood low lying roads, intersections and underpasses.

More rain is expected today in the region, ranging from a 60 percent chance in Charlotte to a 70 percent chance in far western communities like Franklin. Thunderstorms could produce occasional cloud-to-ground lightning, and briefly gusty winds could knock down trees, say forecasters.

WSOC is reporting there were "several" landslides in McDowell County and that four swift water rescues were carried out overnight.

The National Weather Service tweeted early Wednesday that rainfall records were broken in some areas, including nearly 1.76 inches of rain that fell in 24 hours at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport.

The flooding dangers began late Tuesday when a flash flood emergency was declared for McDowell County, including the cities of Marion and Old Fort. "This is a PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION," the alert said. "SEEK HIGHER GROUND NOW!"

It's only the second time ever that the Greenville-Spartanburg office has issued a flash flood emergency.

Although Subtropical Depression Alberto is weakening, it brought bands of heavy rain to Western North Carolina.

Shortly before 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, a mudslide closed both directions of Interstate 40 in McDowell County, according to McDowell County Emergency Management.

Local officials told WSOC that some cars on the interstate were trapped in the mudslide, but the motorists were able to get out and none were hurt, the station reported.

The interstate was reopened about 4:30 a.m. near Old Fort, reported McDowell County Emergency Management. However, one eastbound lane and two westbound lanes will remain closed for several days for repairs.

The National Weather Service issued a bulletin at 10:44 p.m. warning of the threat of more landslides into the weekend for the mountains and Foothills.

All campgrounds along the Catawba River were evacuated, and significant flooding is occurring along the river.

The storm has killed two people in the state — journalists with WYFF, the NBC-TV affiliate in Greenville, S.C. Anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer were covering hazardous weather conditions in Polk County on Monday when a tree crushed their news van, the station reported.

State and local officials were monitoring expected flooding Tuesday along the Roanoke River near Roanoke Rapids and the French Broad River at Fletcher and Blantyre later this week, Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. Officials continue to monitor the French Broad River in Asheville, the Neuse River in Smithfield, the Roanoke River in Williamston and the Northeast Cape Fear River near Burgaw for flooding.

In Avery County, U.S. 221 remained closed Tuesday while repairs were made from damage caused by heavy rains earlier this month., according to Cooper.

Several secondary roads are closed in Transylvania County due to flooding, including Wilson Road, Davidson River Road, Island Ford Road and Cascade Lake Road, the governor said. Some roads in Eastern North Carolina are closed as well.

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs
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