4.14 inches of rainfall doubles prior record; region begins to dry out, assess damage

Rex Wheeler, left, and his neighbor Charlie Snyder carry trash cans filled with items out of Wheeler's flooded basement after heavy rains brought flooding to the region Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015, in East Ridge, Tenn. Rain is expected to continue into the next week.

Flood warning continues

The National Weather Service said Saturday night the flood warning continues for the following rivers in Tennessee and Georgia:South Chickamauga Creek, affecting Catoosa and Hamilton countiesSequatchie River near Whitwell, Tenn., affecting Bledsoe, Marion and Sequatchie countiesConasauga River near Eton affecting Murray and Whitfield countiesCoahulla Creek near Keiths Mill near Dalton, affecting Whitfield CountyConasauga River near Tilton affecting Gordon, Murray and Whitfield countiesChattooga River near Summerville, affecting Chattooga CountyWest Chickamauga Creek near Fort Oglethorpe, affecting Catoosa and Hamilton countiesLookout Creek near New England, affecting Dade and Hamilton countiesConasauga River near Sloan Bridge near Dalton, affecting Gordon, Murray and Whitfield counties

Rex Wheeler's welcome mat floated across his yard Saturday as 2 feet of water flowed into his East Ridge home on Nottingham Drive.

"We don't leave," he said. "If it gets real high, about 5 1/2 feet, we tie a boat to the top of the step and go back and forth to the car."

The water got so high in his yard, his grandson caught a crawfish swimming in it Saturday, he said.

The homeowner of three decades is one of many Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia residents affected by a record-breaking 4.14 inches of rainfall that slammed the Chattanooga area on Christmas Day. Heavy rain and severe storms across the state all this week led the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to call a Level III state of emergency that continued into today.

Dozens have died in the South and Southwest in storms that brought hammering rains, high winds, lightning and tornadoes.

In South Pittsburg, Tenn., on Saturday, searchers were looking for a woman believed to have fallen into a creek Friday. No information was available on what happened or her identity, but as of Saturday night she wasn't counted in TEMA's death toll of six from the floods and high winds.

The water was falling and things were drying out in many places by late Saturday afternoon, but there were scattered trouble spots. Signal Mountain Road and the W Road were open up Signal Mountain, but Roberts Mill Road remained closed by a washed-out culvert.

Flood warnings remained in place for dozens of creeks and rivers in the region.

The Sequatchie River is at flood stage in Marion County, spreading across farm fields, and Sequatchie County reported roads under water.

A few families were evacuated as a precaution in towns where the rivers come close to the houses. Rescuers went door to door in South Pittsburg, offering to help people who wanted to leave, Emergency Management Agency Director Steve Lamb said.

Two families did leave, he said.

"If water's pouring over the wall in front of your house, it's a cause for alarm," Lamb said. He said South Pittsburg fire and police personnel "waded in there and got them and brought them out."

After the water began going down a few hours later, the residents went home, he said.

Rescuers also went door-to-door in Trion, Ga., and five couples who live near the Chattooga River spent the night at a shelter, EMA Director Eddie Henderson said.

"Luckily this morning the river started to recede. It's been receding all day, and hopefully tomorrow it'll recede more," he said. "It could have been a lot worse. In fact, we thought it was going to be."

In Polk County, Tenn., County Executive Hoyt Firestone said U.S. Highway 411 was briefly closed by four to six inches of water. Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn confirmed that U.S. Highway 64 was briefly blocked by a small slide.

Firestone said Copperhill was spared another inundation after the one Thursday that shut one of two bridges across the Ocoee/Toccoa River.

But across the river in Fannin County, Ga., roads washed out in McCaysville and in the Cohutta National Forest between Jacks River Campground and Three Forks, EMA Director Robert Poole said. He reported two mudslides in the Mountain Tops subdivision in Blue Ridge. One may have damaged a home's foundation, and the other blocked the main road into the subdivision, Poole said.

Water still blocked some roads in low spots across North Georgia counties, and the Lookout Mountain Flight Park said on Facebook its landing area flooded.

Elsewhere, dispatchers in Bradley, McMinn and Meigs counties in Tennessee all reported that most roads are clear and the areas are drying out.

Flynn said repairs began Saturday on state Highway 30 over Rattan Creek, where a 22-year-old Rhea County man drove into a water-carved ravine and drowned. Crews placed a 96-inch culvert and began filling in around it with rock. The road is expected to be closed for two weeks.

She said TDOT crews will be out assessing damage in the coming days.

"We may have to shore up the shoulder on Signal Mountain Road where we had the most water across the road," Flynn said in an email. " We will check out the locations where we have/had high water to make sure everything is okay at those locations. Our bridge inspectors will also be checking bridges to ensure that there are no concerns."

'A lot of rain, fast'

The 4.14 inches of rain over Christmas is more than double the previous rainfall record set in 1973 with 2.01 inches.

"It's a lot of rain fast," said David Hotz, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn.

There'll be a break before more rain is expected. WRCB-TV meteorologists said there's a 30 percent chance of rain today, with a high of 73, a low of 62 and isolated thunderstorms. But forecasters predict a 100 percent chance of rain on Monday.

Wheeler said the water should be all gone from his East Ridge yard by this afternoon. He's an old hand - his home has flooded eight or nine times since 1990. The last flood was in 2009, he said.

"By tomorrow afternoon it should all be gone, and it just leaves a mess," he said Saturday.

Several residents on Nottingham Drive and Spring Valley Drive sloshed barefoot through water covering their driveways and grass.

Not many of them wanted to talk about the flood damage. One homeowner who didn't want to give his name said local owners have talked for years but get little help. He said he pays $1,300 for flood insurance alone, not including insurance for his home.

"The city of East Ridge could have extended the levee for $6 million or $8 million when it was first built, but they wouldn't do it. So that's why they're getting this and this not only affects this area, there are houses in back of the hospital that are low too," he said.

East Ridge officials were unavailable for comment Saturday.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yput man@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.