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It was feared that if the dam did fail and collapse, water would flood from the creek into the James River, which is close to the city's business district.

But by early afternoon Friday, officials said the dam was stable, and were considering opening a sluice gate at the dam to help reduce the water in the lake, according to a statement from Lynchburg Water Resources.

The deluge of rain that affected much of Virginia on Thursday, causing road closures and power outages in the Shenandoah Valley, has prompted evacuations in Lynchburg, just below an overflowing dam.

A press conference is scheduled at 3 p.m. Friday.

Local fire and police were sending boats to rescue people and take them to area shelters.

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The weather service said that College Lake was at "near capacity" after up to 15 centimetres of rain fell on Thursday evening (Friday NZT).

The National Weather Service, warning of the "dangerous situation", said early Friday that "runoff from Thursday's heavy rainfall will continue to cause flooding across the area". A flash flood watch was in effect until 11 a.m. The Virginia Department of Transportation built it in 1934.

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. The original surface area of the lake was reported to be 44 acres and has been reduced to 19 acres due to sedimentation.

"The good news is that the rain has stopped and began to recede yesterday, relieving some of the pressure on the dam", Major Tommy Carter of the Lynchburg Sheriff's office told Fox News on Friday, "but the bad news is that there's more rain in the forecast today and the dam has been weakened".

The National Weather Service says up to 6 inches of rain fell within hours, filling College Lake near Lynchburg, Virginia beyond capacity.