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'Historic' storm continues to pound Southeast

The stalled tropical rain system has triggered flood warnings in five states, washed out hundreds of roads and bridges, and caused four fatalities.

September 22, 2009|Richard Fausset

ATLANTA — Months after the end of a historic drought that wreaked three years of slow-motion damage on the Southeast, a potent but sluggardly storm system has parked itself over much of the region, dumping days' worth of rain that has washed out hundreds of roads and bridges and caused six deaths.

On Monday, the tropical system, which has brought rain for as many as six days in some areas, had triggered flood warnings in parts of Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, according to the National Weather Service. More than 20 inches have been recorded in the last 36 hours in some parts of the Atlanta area, spokesman Frank Taylor said.

More rain was expected overnight Monday, with the earliest reprieve probably coming Wednesday, although rain could continue through the weekend. That meant further difficulties for rescue crews helping some residents evacuate.

The weather service called the flooding "historic" and life-threatening, and warned many residents to stay home, if home was safe enough.

Most of the dead were motorists, including at least two who were swept into fast-moving creeks. A 2-year-old boy was killed when his family's mobile home floated down an engorged creek and split apart. His parents and 1-year-old brother were rescued.

The Associated Press reported that a 46-year-old man was missing in Chattanooga, Tenn., after he tried to swim across a flooded ditch on a $5 bet.

Lisa Janak, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management agency, said three other people were missing in Douglas County, west of Atlanta.

Sheila Watson, assistant to the Douglas County fire chief, said that more than 50 roads were washed out and that a number of bridges were on the verge of collapsing.

"I have worked for Douglas County for 36 years, and this is the worst I've ever seen it," she said. "It's a mess."

In Lawrenceville, Ga., northeast of Atlanta, public schools were closed Monday, dozens of roads were blocked off, and residents were preparing for another night of heavy rain.

Bobby Greeson, manager of an air conditioning repair company, had a crew hustling around town to repair residents' flooded-out systems.

"This morning a lot of the creeks and everything had spilled their banks . . . and it's fixing to come back on us again, pouring," he said. "People's basements are flooded, crawl spaces are flooded. We haven't had this amount of rain in years."

Taylor said the low-pressure storm system has been wedged into the area by high pressure systems to the north and east, with moisture streaming in from the Gulf of Mexico.

In the Atlanta area, the lengthy storms and swollen creeks and rivers disrupted much of the daily rhythm of life Monday.

The five-level "spaghetti junction" interchange north of the city, which delivers thousands of commuters to their jobs each morning, was shut down due to high water from 7 a.m. to 7:45 p.m.

At least five county school districts closed their doors, and a spokesman for Georgia Power, the local utility, said that 20,000 homes were without electricity as of late Monday afternoon.

The storms arrived less than six months after Georgia's three-year drought was officially declared over by the state climatologist.

In late 2007, the state had become so parched that Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue hosted a public event in which he and others prayed for rain.

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richard.fausset@latimes.com

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