- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

ATLANTA | State and local officials in Georgia waded Tuesday through water from a week’s worth of rain that produced the worst flooding to hit the northern part of the state in more than 60 years.

So far near-record flooding has killed nine people, closed hundreds of roads and schools, brought down trees, submerged homes, whisked away cars and caused millions of dollars worth of damage to a large sewage treatment plant that serves metropolitan Atlanta. Though the area’s drinking water has been declared safe, Georgia Power said 3,000 residents were without power and might remain that way until the floodwater recedes.

Gov. Sonny Perdue asked President Obama to declare a federal state of emergency, citing the need to do everything possible to help flood victims. Mr. Perdue had already declared a state of emergency in 17 counties, but said he may add to that list.

Tuesday was dry and mostly sunny, but rain remains in the forecast daily the rest of the week.

Though weather experts weren’t ready to say that this was the biggest flood to hit North Georgia - a 1946 flood holds that distinction, at least for now - they did agree it might wind up being the wettest September since Hurricane Ivan washed over the state in 2004, leaving 12 inches of rain.

“It’s still too early to tell, but this has the potential to be the wettest September in Georgia,” said Richard Heim, a meteorologist in the Climate Monitoring Branch of the National Climatic Data Center. “Already, we’ve seen 16 or more inches of rainfall in some parts of the state.”

The Atlanta area has been hard-hit by rain for the past eight days, receiving from 7 to 17 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service. Area lakes, once thirsty from a three-year drought, have benefited from the deluge. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Lanier, Atlanta’s main water supply, rose 3 feet in three days, while Lake Allatoona rose 8 feet in 24 hours.

But water rose in the streets as well, with Atlantans sharing pictures on social media sites such as Twitter, Flickr and Facebook of interstate highways submerged in brown water and people paddling boats through downtown tunnels.

On the west side of the city, much of a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia was submerged, but a spokesperson said the park should be ready for visitors by the weekend. On the east side of the city, East Lake Golf Course, which hosts the Tour Championship this week, was working hard to drain its courses so play could begin Thursday. And all across North Georgia, state and local officials carried out search-and-rescue missions and towed abandoned cars.

Layne Garrard Preau and her 4-year-old daughter Rachel were at church Monday afternoon when the flooding began.

“It was the first meeting for the Little Flowers group, which is kind of a Girl Scouts for Catholics,” Mrs. Preau said. “So we were there with a lot of moms and other little girls when my husband called to tell me he was getting out of work early because the flooding was bad, and he’d come to the church so we could follow him home.”

By the time Mrs. Preau’s husband arrived, the first floor of the church had begun to flood with about 3 to 4 inches of water.

“We tried to figure out whether to go through downtown or take side streets,” Mrs. Preau said. They stayed off the interstate, she said, occasionally driving through water in a 90-minute trip that usually takes 20 minutes in good weather. They returned to a house that was fine, except for a flooded basement.

The water has meant trouble in a city known for its creep-and-crawl commutes. The Georgia Department of Transportation reported heavy delays during Tuesday evening rush hour on the west side of Atlanta, where at one point about 200 streets were closed northwest of the city because of flooding from the Chattahoochee River.

The rising Chattahoochee caused a large sewage treatment plant to fail because the plant’s floodwater pumps couldn’t handle the river’s “unprecedented flood levels,” according to Atlanta Watershed Management Commissioner Rob Hunter. He said the city’s drinking water would not be harmed.

As some Georgia residents on Tuesday decided whether to telecommute and others weighed whether to return to their flooded neighborhoods and homes, Mr. Perdue begged people to stay off rain-soaked streets.

“I know it’s a huge temptation for people to get back into their homes and into their neighborhoods, but please be patient,” Mr. Perdue said.

Some people ignored those pleas and got in their cars anyway. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, five people were pulled from deep water when one person ignored a barricade on a flooded street and the four others came to the rescue. Even some dry roads and bridges posed dangers, authorities said, because both have been weakened by the water.

“You don’t know what’s under [the water], you don’t even know if you are on the road,” Mr. Perdue said. “We’re no match for the force that the water has put upon us.”

According to various reports, a 2-year-old boy died when 20 feet of floodwater flowed through the trailer park where his family lived and ripped him from his father’s arms. Three more people died when their cars were swept away in flash floods in Douglas County.

One of those victims spoke to a family member while she was trapped in her vehicle.

“She said that the vehicle was being taken by water, that it was starting to take the car,” Lori Jones told WSB-TV. Her niece Delena Waters died in the flooding.

Atlanta resident Chris Smith said rain flooded his basement twice in the past four days.

“I knew it was going to happen,” said Mr. Smith, 32, an adjunct English professor for an online university. “On Saturday, there was about an inch of water and I was able to vacuum it up, but it took forever, about two to three hours. I went into my crawl space and checked every corner of my house to see where the water was coming from and saw that everything was dry except for this one corner where we have no gutters.”

Though some water had gotten into the air conditioner’s filter, by Monday morning Mr. Smith said his basement was fine and mostly dry. Then the rain came again and poured about 3 more inches of water onto his basement floor.

“I sump-pumped it, and then I vacuumed it again,” he said. “Now I have the door open and the fans running, and I’ll go buy a gutter for that side of the house. That’s all I can do.”

Mr. Smith’s 5-year-old son Lucas was home Tuesday because a tree fell and blocked the road to his school, forcing it to close for the day.

“We’re going to Home Depot to buy door hinges for the air conditioner, and then I’m going to take him to get some ice cream,” Mr. Smith said. “The boy has earned it, spending his whole day with me.”

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