Remnants of subtropical storm Alberto prompted mandatory evacuations in western North Carolina as officials determined that a dam there was “risk of imminent failure.”

Torrential rain, flash floods and landslides ripped through the region Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. One landslide compromised the integrity of Lake Tahoma Dam, prompting mandatory evacuations for residents and businesses.

The dam, located at a private lake in the mountains about an hour outside Asheville, reached “Level 1” of emergency categories, McDowell County Emergency Management officials said — meaning the dam had failed, was failing, or was about to fail, according to federal guidelines.

Just after midnight, the National Weather Service said water was spilling around the edges of the dam.

“MANDATORY EVACUATIONS underway,” the NWS said. “ACT NOW TO PRESERVE YOUR LIFE!”

By 10 a.m. Wednesday, McDowell County officials announced that an engineer had inspected the dam and deemed it to be safe, and said people could return to their homes.

Rain, flooding and landslides crippled freeways overnight in several counties in the western part of the state as Alberto dumped a few more inches of rain — up to six in some places — in already saturated areas across the southern Appalachians.

In hard-hit McDowell, county services have been stretched to their limit as large teams of emergency personnel worked overnight, conducting evacuations and water rescues, officials said.

“This is a PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION. SEEK HIGHER GROUND NOW!” McDowell County Emergency Management said in flood warnings Tuesday and Wednesday.


Lake Tahoma Dam near Marion, N.C. (iStock)

Residents were urged to avoid traveling unless they needed to escape from floodwaters.

“Most flood deaths occur in vehicles,” officials warned. “Do not attempt to cross water-covered roadways, bridges, or low-level crossings. Only a few inches of rapidly flowing water can carry away your vehicle. It is not worth the risk. Please TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN.”

In scenic Asheville, about 40 miles from Lake Tahoma, runoff from heavy rain has caused Swannanoa River to rise above flood stage, which is about 10 feet, city officials said. Police have shut down parts of the city’s Biltmore Village, an art, shopping and dining district, as floodwaters continued to rise Wednesday.

Alberto made landfall along the Florida Panhandle late Monday afternoon with winds of up to 65 mph. The storm ripped through Southeastern United States, causing thousands of power outages in Alabama and killing two journalists in South Carolina

News anchor Michael McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer, of NBC’s Greenville affiliate WYFF, were killed Monday while covering the storm. The two were traveling on Highway 176 in Polk County, N.C., about 30 miles from Greenville, when a tree fell on their news vehicle, officials said. Tryon (N.C.) Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant said the vehicle was in motion when the tree fell, and the transmission was still running when emergency crews arrived.

“Mike and Aaron were stellar journalists, dedicated to covering news in this market,” John Humphries, WYFF president and general manager, said in a statement. “They were beloved members of our newsroom and we will miss them tremendously. Today is a difficult day, and there will be many more ahead.”

Meagan Flynn contributed to this article.

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