As Floodwaters Recede in Southeast, Many Residences Remain Underwater

September 24, 2009

As floodwaters around Atlanta began to recede, residents were packing moving vans with furniture and commiserating about water-logged apartments.

“I’m toast,” Penny Freeman, who moved into a first-floor apartment five days ago, said. “I don’t have a place to stay. I’m losing my mind right now.”

At least 10 deaths in Georgia and Alabama were blamed on the torrential downpours in the Southeast. The storms finally relented but the onslaught left many parts of the region in stagnant water.

The latest victim, Richard Butler, 29, drowned after his car was apparently washed off a road near a creek in suburban Douglas County, west of Atlanta, county spokesman Wes Tallon said.

Washed-out roads and flooded freeways around metro Atlanta caused commuters headaches, though many major arteries had reopened by by Tuesday night. Gov. Sonny Perdue asked President Barack Obama to declare a state of emergency in Georgia. Officials estimated $250 million in damage in the state, most of it to properties without flood insurance.

Many neighborhoods remained awash in several feet of murky, brown water, even as an emerging sun shed light on the widespread flood damage. Robert Blake, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said people should assume floodwater is contaminated and should be cautious when they return to their homes.

Most deaths were from drowning when cars were swept off roadways. Authorities released a 15-minute 911 call of a storm victim’s last moments. Seydi Burciaga, 39, screamed to a dispatcher as water rose to her neck. The dispatcher advised her to try to break a window, but she couldn’t.

“I don’t want to drown here, please!” Burciaga said.

Eddie Stroup, an investigator with the Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office in northwest Georgia, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that 14-year-old Nicholas Osley drowned when he and a friend saw a Jeep in the water and dove it to see if they could help if people were stranded. The current from the nearby Chattooga River swept them away, Stroup said. The friend survived.

After several days of steady rain, the ground was saturated from Alabama through Georgia into eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The floods came just months after an epic two-year drought in the region ended with winter rains.

In Tennessee, a man was still missing after jumping into the fast-moving water as part of a bet. Boats and trucks evacuated 120 residents from a retirement center as nearby creeks rose, and several hundred others were ferried from low-lying neighborhoods and motels to dry land.

The devastation surrounding Atlanta was widespread. In Austell, about 17 miles west of downtown Atlanta, Sweetwater Creek overflowed its banks, sending muddy water rushing into a nearby mobile home park where several trailers were almost completely submerged.

“We don’t know what to do,” said Jenny Roque, 30, who lived there with her husband and four children. “The only thing we have left is our truck.”

Just down the road, in the Mulberry Creek subdivision, large houses built just five years ago were partially underwater. Some residents tried to salvage anything.

“There’s things that you can’t replace, but it’s just stuff,” said Deborah Golden, whose split-level home was mostly underwater. “But there are four people in our family and we’re all safe so we’re glad for that.”

Before being evacuated, Cordell Albert and her husband Christopher moved their valuables to the second floor of their Powder Springs home. The couple waded through knee-deep water before a raft picked them up.

“I feel lost,” she said. “I feel homeless.”

Associated Press writers Greg Bluestein, Johnny C. Clark, Errin Haines and Dionne Walker in Atlanta, and Bill Poovey in Chattanooga, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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