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Officials fear Virginia dam will collapse, flood city with up to 17 feet of water

LYNCHBURG, Va. - Heavy rains sent water spilling over a dam in Lynchburg, Virginia, spurring fears that it could collapse and prompting some home evacuations in the city of roughly 80,000 people.

In a dire warning Thursday night, the National Weather Service reported the College Lake Dam could fail, and if it does, "the water depth at Lynchburg could exceed 17 feet in 7 minutes."

The dam was intact Friday morning, the weather service said in an update, but water has been moving over it and into Blackwater Creek about 2 miles southwest of downtown Lynchburg.

"Although water levels have decreased, the threat for dam failure continues," and emergency personnel will check for signs of structural failure, the weather service said Friday morning.

The warning comes as rain has saturated parts of the East for days, with flash-flood watches in effect Friday morning for millions from Georgia to Vermont.

Some of Lynchburg is already flooded. City officials posted pictures Thursday of rescuers using a raft to take families from a flood-threatened apartment complex as well as the partial collapse of one road into an adjacent creek.

Other photos showed water rushing Thursday night over the dam and Lakeside Drive, which separates College Lake and Blackwater Creek.

Earlier Thursday, Joni Organ posted video on social media of water thundering powerfully down a swollen Lynchburg creek.

"I think I know some people who are going to be moving tonight," Organ says in the video.

Should the dam collapse, floodwaters would move from the creek into the James River near Lynchburg's business district.

The city's Department of Emergency Services urged people living on a number of roads near the dam to evacuate Thursday night. The department's Piper Van dePerre told CNN affiliate WDBJ in Roanoke that crews are working with a list of 124 residences that need to be evacuated.

The west-central Virginia city near the Blue Ridge Mountains has received plenty of runoff from recent rains, and 4 to 6 inches of rain fell in the area Thursday evening, filling College Lake beyond its capacity.

A flash-flood watch was in effect through 6 p.m. Friday in Lynchburg, with 1 to 3 more inches of rain expected.

The University of Lynchburg, which is near the lake, said it has not ordered an evacuation because it is not downstream of the dam, according to affiliate WSLS in Roanoke. The school said it is open Friday, though its entrance on Lakeside Drive was closed.