2 Killed, 2 Missing as Storms Drench Southeast

Published September 21, 2009

Flooding from lines of thunderstorms and rain across the Southeast killed at least 2 people and left 2 others missing Monday, including a Georgia toddler whose family's mobile home was split apart by a swollen creek.

Two Georgia motorists died when their vehicles were swept off Atlanta-area roads in a deluge that submerged some major highways and prompted flood warnings and school closures. And officials bracing for more rain as a new line of storms threatened the area urged motorists to stay off the roads if they can.

The waters also swept away a Tennessee man who went swimming in an overflowing ditch on a dare and disappeared in the fast-moving water.

Crews in northwest Georgia worked furiously with one eye to the sky to shore up a levee that was in danger of failing along the surging Chattooga River. The rising waters forced local officials to evacuate hundreds of residents of the small town of Trion and inmate crews were stocking sandbags along the levee wall to reinforce it.

"It's a grave situation for us," said Lamar Canada, who directs Chattooga County's emergency management agency.

Forecasters issued flood alerts for parts of Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia as more rain fell after days of storms that have saturated the ground. As much as 20 inches had fallen in three days in parts of metro Atlanta, leaving soil soggy and trees more vulnerable to falling over.

The "persistent tropical system" that has been hovering over the region for the last week could dump another four inches on north Georgia overnight Monday with isolated areas possibly seeing even higher rainfall levels, said National Weather Service meteorologist Frank Taylor. He said rains were expected to taper off starting Wednesday.

Rescuers in Tennessee were searching for a Chattanooga man who was swept into a culvert Sunday after boasting to friends and relatives that he could swim across a flooded ditch alongside his house for $5. The man's nephew identified him as 46-year-old Sylvester Kitchens.

Firefighters rescued another man who also tried to swim the ditch. Albert Miller was found clinging to a fence in the water near where the water empties into the culvert, said Fire Department spokesman Bruce Garner. Miller was taken to the hospital with symptoms of hypothermia.

The nephew, 22-year-old Leslie Townsend, said Kitchens was swept away when he tried to grab onto a garden hose that Townsend threw to him.

Emergency workers in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville found a woman dead in her sunken vehicle after it was swept off a road by flooding Monday, said Capt. Thomas Rutledge of the Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services. The woman was identified as Seydi Burciaga, 39, who was returning home from work.

"In my 22 years in the fire department here in Gwinnett we have not experienced flooding to this degree," Rutledge aid.

One of the hardest-hit areas is Douglas County west of Atlanta, which forecasters say was hit by as much as a foot of rain during the deluge. The rains blocked more than 45 roads in the county and caused the death of a man whose body was found downstream after his car was swept from the road into a creek, said county spokesman Wes Tallon.

He said emergency officials have rescued dozens of people stranded in their homes and cars by rising waters.

"We're using everything we can get our hands on," Tallon said. "Everything from boats to Jet Skis to ropes to ladders."

Authorities in next-door Carroll County scoured the area for a toddler who went missing at around 4 a.m. after the storms dumped more than a foot of rain in the area, said Carroll County Emergency Management Director Tim Padgett. He said agencies are searching for the child near a surging creek in the area.

In Kentucky, thunderstorms dumped about 4 inches of rain on parts of Louisville in a single day Sunday. Flash flooding caused fire and rescue personnel to make more than a dozen runs to assist people stranded in vehicles, said Louisville fire department spokesman Sgt. Salvador Melendez. A fire that broke out Sunday night at an apartment complex appeared to be caused by lightning, Melendez said. A firefighter suffered burns to his neck, he said.

Flooding in more than 20 counties in western North Carolina closed roads, delayed school and forced evacuations. Polk County emergency officials evacuated homes along a seven-mile stretch of road Sunday as water rose to window-level on some houses.

The rolling storms shut down school systems in five north Georgia counties. Water also flooded homes, washed out some roads and left standing pools on some busy metro Atlanta highways.

Flash flood watches were issued Monday for much of Alabama, where the National Weather Service said as much as a foot of rain fell in less than 24 hours in some northern parts of the state. School officials in Bibb County, about 50 miles southwest of Birmingham, called off classes for fear their 3,600 students wouldn't be able to get home later Monday.

Trisha Palmer of the National Weather Service said that as much as 20 inches of rain has fallen on the metro Atlanta area since Friday. Parts of Douglas and Carroll counties have received more than a foot of rain in the last day alone, she said.

"It's a mess all over," said Lisa Janak of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Written by Associated Press

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