Soggy Alberto triggers mudslides, threatens dam failure
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Mudslides triggered by the soggy remnants of Alberto forced evacuations below a dam and closed an interstate highway in the western mountains of North Carolina on Wednesday.
Forecasters warned that the leftovers of the Atlantic hurricane season's first named storm are still capable of causing treacherous flooding as heavy precipitation spreads deeper into the nation's midsection. Flash flood watches were in effect for parts of several states from Alabama through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, the Carolinas and Virginia and West Virginia.
About 2,000 people were evacuated after emergency managers said the Lake Tahoma dam in western North Carolina was in danger of "imminent failure." Heavy rain triggered landslides at the dam, and the National Weather Service said "evacuees are being asked to flee."
Just before dawn Wednesday, McDowell County Emergency Management deputy director Adrienne Jones told The Associated Press that the dam had not failed, but an engineer who had inspected the scene was concerned enough to order the evacuation until the dam could be examined in daylight.
Jones said about 200 residents were in three shelters, set up in Marion, Old Fort and Glenwood. She said five minor injuries have been reported during water rescues as creeks and streams overflowed their banks and rock slides closed roads.
The big, messy storm caused more than 25,000 power outages in Alabama on Tuesday, a day after making landfall on the Florida Panhandle. Many of the outages were caused by trees rooted in soggy soil falling across utility lines.
"We've had a lot of rain, but we got lucky. It was a constant rain but not a heavy rain," said Regina Myers, emergency management director in Walker County northwest of Birmingham.
Subtropical storm Alberto rolled ashore Monday afternoon in the Florida Panhandle before quickly weakening to a depression. By Tuesday morning, beachcombers had returned to the white sands of the Northern Gulf.
In Cuba, flooding damaged an oil refinery and caused crude oil to spill into Cienfuegos Bay as the remnants of Alberto continued to drench the island in heavy rain. State-owned TV showed authorities using barriers Tuesday to try to contain the spill from the Cienfuegos refinery in central Cuba about 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of Havana.
In North Carolina, a television news anchor and a photojournalist were killed Monday while covering the weather, when a tree became uprooted from rain-soaked ground and toppled onto their SUV, authorities said. WYFF-TV of Greenville, South Carolina, said news anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer were killed.
"Two journalists working to keep the public informed about this storm have tragically lost their lives, and we mourn with their families, friends and colleagues," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.
Alberto was more of a rainstorm than a wind threat, but the National Weather Service said at least one tornado had been confirmed.
The weather service said its meteorologists confirmed a weak tornado with maximum winds of 85 mph (147 kph) hit an area around Cameron, South Carolina, on Monday afternoon. No one was hurt.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay in Miami Beach, Florida, Kate Brumback in Atlanta and Jeffrey S. Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.