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Flooded Georgia hopes worst is over

A series of rainstorms has left at least 7 dead and flooded over 1,000 homes, but forecasters say the deluge is likely over. Gov. Sonny Perdue asks for federal disaster relief help.

September 23, 2009|Richard Fausset

ATLANTA — Georgia faced continuing headaches and heartache Tuesday from a pernicious series of rainstorms that had claimed the lives of at least seven people and flooded more than 1,000 homes -- although weather forecasters said the worst of the deluge likely had passed.

On Tuesday morning, Gov. Sonny Perdue formally asked President Obama for an emergency declaration that would make the hardest-hit areas eligible for federal disaster relief funds. A day earlier, Perdue had declared a state of emergency in 17 counties in the Atlanta area and north Georgia.

In the last few days, parts of the state have been deluged with more than 20 inches of rain. Thousands of residents, Perdue said in his appeal to Obama, remained without power, dozens of roads were still closed, and several county systems were not able to deliver potable water.

During a news conference, Perdue urged people to stay away from flooded areas. State emergency officials said that a number of rescues had to be performed Tuesday, as people braved tricky or deep waters in hopes of getting back to their homes.

"I know stuff is important, but it's not nearly as important as your life," Perdue said. "Give these waters time to recede."

Some good news came from the National Weather Service, which reported that the storm systems that have been parked over the area appeared to be breaking up.

Spokesman Frank Taylor said the chance of rain remained at 20% to 50% through Sunday.

A number of rivers and streams have reached record flood levels. At least one section of the Chattahoochee River was not expected to crest until today at 30 feet -- some 15 feet above flood stage.

Officials said that flooding had severely compromised the R.M. Clayton wastewater plant, the state's largest, on the banks of the Chattahoochee. As a result, 100 million gallons of untreated sewage and storm water were gushing into the swollen river Tuesday afternoon.

Atlanta water department spokeswoman Janet Ward said that drinking water would not be affected, but "people are going to have to stay out of the water for a while."

About 80 miles to the northwest, the flooding claimed a 14-year-old victim.

Nicholas Osley, an eighth-grader from Summerville, Ga., had been driving with his mother Monday when they noticed a Jeep overtaken by water in a flooded cornfield. They thought they saw a hand sticking from the car, so Nicholas and a friend waded into the field to help.

Nicholas was pulled underwater by the current. The hand turned out to be a cornstalk.

"He was just going to help," his grandmother, Sarah Smith, said Tuesday through her tears. "That's just the kind of child he was."

A number of other deaths in the region involved motorists who were swept away by floodwaters. In Carroll County, about a half-hour west of Atlanta, a total of four bodies were recovered.

One 2-year-old died when his trailer was washed away.

Officials also were wondering whether the storms were to blame for the deaths of 2-year-old twin boys, whose bodies were found in a bedroom Monday after a home heating system malfunctioned and the temperature in their room rose to well above 100 degrees. Carrollton Police Capt. Chris Dobbs said it was possible that the malfunction had been triggered by Sunday night's thunderstorms.

Many Georgia residents were thankful Tuesday that they had averted catastrophe -- if only just barely.

In Atlanta's upscale Buckhead neighborhood, 52-year-old Cindy Myers was taking stock of the mess in her mother's basement. Water from Peachtree Creek had flooded in, and Myers and her family spent much of Monday night moving furniture and other items to the top floor of the house.

Myers left the house late Monday fearing the worst. The water had risen to the top of the basement steps.

But a big overnight rainstorm that was supposed to blow in had failed to materialize.

Tuesday morning, she returned to her mother's house. The neighborhood was covered in mud. But the main floor of the home was dry.

"I felt like crying just because of sheer happiness and relief," she said, "but I didn't." Instead, "I said, 'Thank you, Lord.' "

--

richard.fausset@latimes.com

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