Officials Warn Virginia Dam Could Fail Due to Flooding, Evacuate Residents Overnight

By Ron Brackett

May 21 2020 04:00 PM EDT

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At a Glance

  • The Spring Valley Dam was in danger of failing, Roanoke officials warned.
  • Flooding closed roads in Virginia and the Carolinas.
  • A 20-year-old man died when a tree fell on his home in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Officials in Roanoke warned Thursday that a dam was in danger of failing as heavy rain continued to cause problems across Virginia and the Carolinas.

Residents living below the Spring Valley Dam in Roanoke, Virginia, were told to evacuate their homes about 1 a.m. Thursday. About 13 houses are in the affected area, according to a news release from the city of Roanoke. Firefighters and police officers went door to door alerting residents to the threat.

A dam safety engineer was monitoring the situation at the dam, Roanoke Fire-EMS Battalion Chief Trevor Shannon said during an online news conference Thursday morning. An inspection showed the dam was holding up, but the situation will continue to be monitored.

Later in the day, Shannon said the dam was not in imminent danger of failure and the evacuations were ordered in an abundance of caution.

Shannon said they also evacuated about 60 structures in southeast Roanoke, including a Ramada Inn. Roads around Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital were also flooded, but the hospital continued to operate normally, according to WSET. A day care center near the hospital was evacuated.

In North Carolina, a 20-year-old man was killed when a tree fell on his home in Mount Airy about 5 a.m., John Shelton, director of Surry County Emergency Services, told WXII.

(MORE: 'Long Ways to Go' Before Residents Can Return Home After Michigan Dam Failures)

Rescuers also had to help several people escape flooded vehicles overnight in Roanoke.

The city in southwest Virginia saw 6.34 inches of rain from Monday through Wednesday, according to meteorologist Jonathan Erdman. That was the heaviest two-day rain total for the city in almost 14 years. Average rainfall for the entire month of May is only 4.06 inches.

The Roanoke River was projected to crest at 16.6 feet, more than 6 feet above flood stage.

In nearby Salem, Virginia, a landslide shoved mud, rocks and trees onto a road, blocking traffic and threatening homes, WSET reported.

"All of a sudden the whole mountain just went bloop and fell down," Daniel Lam told the station.

Access to Interstate 81 in Salem also was blocked by flooding, WSLS reported.

In many areas, trees toppled when the saturated ground could no longer support them.

Roads remained closed across North and South Carolina and Virginia after flooding from several days of rain. Some areas have seen more than half a foot of rain.

In North Carolina, nearly 10,000 homes and businesses were left without electricity, according to About 3,800 customers had no power in Virginia.

One large tree caused minor damage Wednesday when it fell on Alumni Hall at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

A family in Greenville, South Carolina, escaped major injury when a tree crashed down on their home.

“My wife was screaming, so I was wondering what was going on, pulled the sheetrock off and all the dirt, yelled for my daughter and my wife. They were okay," Troy Kinnunen told WYFF.

Streets throughout Greenville County were closed because of flooding.

At the other end of the state, dozens of streets flooded and some buildings had to be evacuated in Charleston.

A possible tornado toppled several trees on Johns Island and Wadmalaw Island.

The National Weather Service office in Charleston planned to send out a team Thursday to survey damage.

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