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‘Epic flood’ leaves thousands in need

Disaster response organizations prepare for long recovery

BY MONICA OLIVAS | AUSTELL, GA | September 25, 2009

Thousands of flood buckets filled with cleaning supplies will be distributed this weekend as Georgia residents begin sweeping out mud and soggy belongings following this week’s “epic” flooding.

The U.S. Geological Survey has declared the devastation in some parts of Georgia to be in the 500-year flood levels. The Sweetwater Creek near Austell, GA, had its highest water levels ever recorded. And the Chattahoochee River overflow pushed water levels in the Peachtree Creek in Atlanta to 500-year levels.

“The USGS can reliably say just how bad these floods were. They were epic!” said Brian McCallum, Assistant Director for the USGS Water Science Center in Georgia.

Austell, a small town in Cobb County, is one of the hardest hit areas in the state. Officials estimate 2,000 residents in the city are in shelters or staying with family and friends.

“The community is a disaster. Everything is brown,” said Brett DeHart, pastor at Austell First United Methodist Church

Now residents are facing cleanup, but they don’t have many resources to do it.

“The thing about our community is we’re lower middle class at best. A lot of the people in our community are people that feel like they’re moving up in life,” said DeHart. “They are just beginning to chase the American dream and now that’s been crushed.”

The Federal Emergency Management Administration said 3,600 residents and business owners had filed for federal assistance by Friday and thousands more are expected. Some estimates have suggested as many as 14,000 homes may have been damaged.

Georgia state insurance commissioner, John W. Oxendine, estimates the damages will top $250 million. “Many of the homeowners affected by this event don’t have flood insurance,” he said.

This leaves residents desperately searching for help.

“Most of the homes are not going to be livable without a great deal of work,” said Mike Yoder, Disaster Coordinator North Georgia Conference, United Methodist Church.

“For the next long while we will be cleaning the mud out of the houses,” said Yoder.

As the water recedes, United Methodists in the North Georgia Conference expect to distribute more than 1,500 flood buckets containing clean-up supplies in the Atlanta Metro area alone, Yoder said.

Other faith-based organizations, including Lutheran Disaster Response, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, the United Church of Christ and Week of Compassion are responding.

The flooding claimed the lives of nine people as it swept through the state. Thousands of cars were also lost to the water and millions of dollars worth of infrastructure was destroyed.

“Many, many bridges are out. The infrastructure of most of the counties is really a disaster,” said Yoder.

Vice President Joe Biden surveyed the area on Friday. He compared the devastation residents are feeling to those who lived through Katrina.

"The truth of the matter is, for someone who lost their home, it is Katrina," Biden said.

President Obama has approved federal aid for 14 Georgia counties. The aid will be allocated for Cobb, Paulding, Douglas, Fulton, Carroll, Chattooga, Cherokee, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Catoosa, Newton, Rockdale, Stephens and Walker Counties.

Unfortunately, the disaster may not be over for some northern Georgia residents. The National Weather Service has posted flash flood warnings for north Georgia through Saturday night; as much as two-inches of rain may fall.

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