Floodwaters Begin To Recede In The Southeast

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In the storm-drenched Southeast, as many as nine people have died in flooding. Some areas saw as much as 16 inches of rain in just a 48 hour period. The storms caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Residents in cash-strapped Georgia are struggling to clean up the mess.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The last couple of years we've been hearing about drought in Georgia. Now the problem is flooding. Both Georgia and Tennessee have been hit hard, with some areas getting well over a foot of rain in a two-day period. Water has rushed over the tops of levies, flooded homes, and caused at least nine deaths. Now cash-strapped Georgia is struggling to clean up the mess. Georgia Public Broadcasting's John Sepulvado reports from Atlanta.

JOHN SEPULVADO: To give you an idea of just how quickly the waters rose, listen to Rico Johnson's story. This past Monday night, the metro Atlanta resident watched some TV, then painted the nails on his pit bull puppy a bubblegum pink.

Mr. RICO JOHNSON: That's my only child, my dog.

SEPULVADO: And then Johnson and his puppy went to bed in their single-story home. The next morning they woke up to two feet of water in their house. Johnson grabbed the dog, went to the store, got some galoshes, then he came back hoping to salvage what he could.

Mr. JOHNSON: But by the time we got back, we didn't even know where our home was because it was up under water.

SEPULVADO: What did it look like?

Mr. JOHNSON: Like a lake, like a lake that's been there.

SEPULVADO: Johnson ended up at this shelter at the Cobb County Civic Center just outside of Atlanta, hoping to find vouchers for rent. Some 300 people have stopped in looking for help, with all of those requests coming from uninsured victims. Red Cross volunteers say they can't help out with anything more than a cot and three meals until they get some money from the government. But at the state level, Governor Sonny Perdue says Georgia's budget is depleted.

Governor SONNY PERDUE (Republican, Georgia): There's not an uninsured fund from the state's perspective, but the state will do everything within its power, both physically and fiscally, for money, to help people recover from this devastation.

SEPULVADO: Perdue is seeking a federal disaster declaration from President Obama to help pay for temporary housing and small business loans. Meanwhile, for poor and rural municipalities, this flooding is causing a financial mess. In Chattooga County, resources were so scarce that County Commissioner Jason Winters used prison inmates to help sandbag a thousand yard section of a levy holding back flood waters.

Mr. JASON WINTERS (County Commissioner, Chattooga County Georgia): Our prison crews were available. It was a noble effort and a lot of hard work went into it, but it was not beneficial. I think we got probably about 40 feet.

SEPULVADO: Ultimately, those waters flooded the town of Trion, prompting an evacuation of 1500 people. And in Metro Atlanta, roller coaster tracks were submerged as the amusement park Six Flags Over Georgia flooded with murky brown water. Nearby, the swelling of the Chattahoochee River prompted the closing of an entire section of Interstate 285. State officials have released a preliminary damage estimate of $16 million, but Charlie English, who heads the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, says that figure will certainly rise.

Mr. CHARLIE ENGLISH (Director, Georgia Emergency Management Agency): I'm guessing it will be three days before we can get out in any of the areas, and the hardest hit areas it might be a week before we can do any substantive damage assessments.

SEPULVADO: So for now most damage estimates are anecdotal. There are many such stories at the temporary shelter in Cobb County. Last night, one woman left in tears after learning there would be no help with temporary housing vouchers after her rental home and all of her belongings were submerged. Her voice trembling, she said, I don't want to talk, before she drove off, unsure of just where she would go.

For NPR News, I'm John Sepulvado in Atlanta.

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