Monday, September 21, 2009

Disaster Strikes the ATL!

With at least five people dead and massive expanses of land and roads under water, Georgia's governor declared a state of emergency Monday in the 17 counties hardest hit by flooding from severe weather. Gov. Sonny Perdue's announcement followed three deaths in north Georgia's Douglas County, one death in Gwinnett County and another in Carroll County, where a 2-year-old child was ripped from her father's arms by fierce floodwaters while he struggled to hold on to bushes, officials said.Those counties, near Atlanta, were among the 17 included in the state-of-emergency declaration. About 100 miles north of Atlanta, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, one person was swept into rushing water and is presumed drowned, said Jeremy Heidt, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency in Nashville. Three missing children in Douglas County, west of Atlanta, were found, but their mother was one of the flood's fatalities, said Dena Brummer, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Near Marietta northwest of Atlanta, a flooded bridge blocked the only road out of a residential area surrounded by a national park and the Chattahoochee River. Two buses picked up elementary school children Monday morning, but flooding prevented them from picking up older students later, and the buses couldn't return with the first batch in the afternoon, said iReporter Pritam Jaipuriar, who lives there.

Two of the Georgia fatalities involved people trying to drive through floodwater. A vehicle with one man in it was swept off a road in Douglas County, and a car carrying a woman was swept off a road in Lawrenceville in Gwinnett County, east of Atlanta, Brummer said. Seydi Burciaga, 39, was driving to her Lawrenceville home from work when flash flooding trapped her in her vehicle, Gwinnett County police said. She called 911 and police tried to locate her, but Burciaga could not tell them exactly where she was. Floodwater moved her car about 500 feet after she was swept off the roadway, and her attempts to guide rescuers to her by mentioning landmarks were unsuccessful, police said. By the time rescuers found her minivan, she was dead, police said.
In Tennessee, the presumed drowning victim was forced into a culvert, or underground storm water drain, about 6 p.m. Sunday, Chattanooga Fire Department spokesman Bruce Garner told CNN. Sylvester Kitchens Jr., 46, was with a friend, Albert Miller, when the two decided to swim in a large, flooded ditch, Garner said. He said a Miller family member told him that "basically it was a bet."

Both managed to grab onto a chain link fence while being buffeted by the strong current, Garner said. A neighbor threw a garden hose for them to grab onto, and Kitchens reached for it but was unable to hold on. Miller clung to the fence for about 20 minutes and was eventually rescued by firefighters, Garner said. Kitchens' body has not been found, said Garner, who added that it "doesn't appear he could've survived."