Pray for Lynchburg — Concerns Of Dam Failure Prompt Evacuations In City

More than a hundred households have been evacuated from their homes in Lynchburg, Va., after heavy rains amid concerns that an aging dam might fail and unleash dangerous floodwaters.

Video posted by the city overnight showed water flowing over the dam and into Blackwater Creek.

LuAnn Hunt, a city spokeswoman, tells NPR that 94 people took shelter at a local high school that is serving as an evacuation center. They will remain there “until our weather event has passed and our dam is stabilized,” she says. Other residents are staying with family and friends; in total, about 120 households have been evacuated, the city says.

Engineers have been assessing the situation at College Lake Dam.

“Currently, they have found no seepage at the dam so it is considered stable,” Jes Gearing, public information officer for Lynchburg Water Resources, said in a statement emailed to NPR. “We are developing a plan to stabilize the dam which may include opening the sluice gate at the dam to reduce the water levels.”

Once the water level drops, emergency repairs can begin to restore the dam’s stability, she says.

Last night, the National Weather Service warned that the worst-case scenario — a complete dam collapse — could send 17 feet of water into the central Virginia city in just seven minutes.

By Friday, the threat was less severe, NWS forecaster Nick Fillo tells NPR. “The conditions have improved,” he says. “After the heavy rain that fell yesterday evening, we just had some light to moderate rain, which hasn’t really added to the problem.”

Authorities were still being cautious. On Friday, the National Weather Service told residents that “the threat for dam failure continues” and the flash flood warning remains in effect.

Lynchburg, with a population of around 80,000, is home to a number of colleges and universities, including the University of Lynchburg (previously Lynchburg College), which owns the lake the dam is located on. Liberty University, the Christian university founded by Jerry Falwell, is also located in Lynchburg.

The dam was built in the early 1930s and, like many dams in the U.S., doesn’t meet current safety standards.

In 2011, Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation identified the College Lake Dam as one of the state’s “high-hazard” dams.

Since 2014, the City Council has been considering options for repairing or replacing the dam.

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SOURCE: NPR – Camila Domonoske