Thousands of people were being evacuated early Wednesday after a landslide caused by heavy rains raised fears about the integrity of a dam in North Carolina, officials said.

Residents living below Lake Tahoma were ordered to leave after the dam was inspected by an engineer.

The National Weather Service said a flash flood emergency was in place for McDowell County including the city of Marion, which is home to around 7,800 people, and Old Fort, which has a population of 900. Authorities urged residents to seek higher ground immediately. 

Lake Tahoma is located about 5 miles northwest of Marion. Marion is about 36 miles east of Asheville.

The flash flood emergency was scheduled to remain in place until 10:30 a.m. ET.

Image: Lake Tahoma

As of 4:15 a.m. ET, officials in McDowell County continued to report "widespread flooding due to heavy rainfall of 4-6 inches over the past 24 hours," the NWS said. "This is causing significant and life-threatening flooding countywide."

It added: "Floodwaters have reached levels not seen since the September 2004 floods associated with Hurricanes Frances and Ivan. Numerous evacuations of residences, businesses, and campgrounds, road closures, water rescues, and landslides are ongoing."

McDowell County Emergency Services director William Kehler told NBC News the evacuations would continue until the dam was examined further after daybreak. As of 3:20 a.m. ET, no injuries or fatalities had been reported.

Kehler also said "several thousand" people lived in the mandatory evacuation zone.

The rain is part of the soggy remnants of Alberto, the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Flash flood watches were in effect early Wednesday for parts of several states from Alabama through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, the Carolinas and Virginia and West Virginia.

television news anchor and a photojournalist died Monday while covering the weather, when a tree became uprooted from rain-soaked ground and toppled onto their SUV in North Carolina.

NBC affiliate WYFF of Greenville, South Carolina, said news anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer were killed.