'This storm isn't yet over.' Gov. Cooper to declare state of emergency amid flooding in western NC

Credit: Screen grab of drone video over Asheville courtesy of Jason Garris)
Credit: Screen grab of drone video over Asheville courtesy of Jason Garris)
Flooding in Asheville (Credit: Tiffany Means)
Flooding in Asheville (Credit: Tiffany Means)

NORTH CAROLINA (WBTV) - North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will declare a state of emergency for the western parts of the state after heavy rain swept through the area, causing mudslides and flooding Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

A mandatory evacuation order has been lifted for parts of McDowell County after concerns about how the weather would affect a dam in the area.

Around 12:30 a.m., Wednesday officials ordered all residents living below Lake Tahoma to evacuate at the request of the Lake Tahoma dam engineer. The evacuation was lifted around 10 a.m.

Emergency management officials say water was spilling around the sides of the Lake Tahoma dam and a landslide occurred on one side of the dam, prompting a level one emergency. The dam has not breached and crews are working to ensure the dam is safe.

A mudslide closed portions of Interstate 40 in McDowell County for some time Wednesday morning.

The governor's office said the declaration will help North Carolina coordinate storm response and prepare for any additional impacts.

Since Tuesday, four to seven inches of rain fell across parts of the North Carolina mountains, state officials said.

"Our emergency response and transportation crews have been working through the night to keep North Carolinians safe as conditions deteriorate," Governor Cooper said. "But this storm isn't yet over. I'm urging people to keep a close eye on forecasts and flood watches, and asking drivers to use caution especially when traveling in our western counties."

More rain is expected to fall over the next few days due to the remnants of the subtropical depression Alberto moving through the Carolinas, resulting in the possibility for more flooding. State officials said the "primary concerns right now are the stability of mountain slopes and several dams."

According to the Charlotte Observer, rivers across western North Carolina surged with record-high water levels on Wednesday as flash flood warnings remained in effect through Thursday morning.

The Catawba River near Pleasant Gardens, near Marion, was at 14.4 feet, more than three feet above flood stage, U.S. Geological Survey data stated.

Local and state officials said they are "closely monitoring" the dams at Lake Lure, Lake Tahoma, Lake Tuxedo and North Fork Lake and plan to send dam safety engineers to the areas.

Over 50 search and rescue crews were deployed to McDowell, Rutherford and Jackson counties to help with water rescues, the governor's office said.

The Charlotte Fire Department deployed two rescue teams to the western part of the state to aid in the rescues.

Officials say over 200 people sought refuge in six shelters that were open in McDowell County overnight. Over 6,500 power outages were reported across western counties, the governor's office said.

On Thursday morning, officials with the American Red Cross said nearly 40 people stayed at four of the shelters located in Buncombe County, McDowell County, Polk County and Rutherford County.

Two workers with the North Carolina Department of Transportation had to be rescued after the tandem dump truck they were using was pushed off the road and into the Catawba River.

According to the NCDOT, the pair was able to climb out through a passenger window until they were rescued.

Officials want to remind the public that if you see standing water, you should turn around.

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