Heavy rains trigger ‘terrible’ flooding across Northwest Georgia

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / A young man walks his dog along a flooded Bittings Avenue. Many homes along the road were effected. After heavy rainfall, a Flash Flood Warning was issued in Summerville on September 4, 2022.

SUMMERVILLE, Ga. -- Heavy storms in Northwest Georgia drenched Chattooga County on Sunday, interrupting water supplies and causing several vehicle and home rescues of people facing floodwaters.

Rusty "Chef" Bright, a resident of Huntsville, Ala., was in Summerville on a group motorcycle ride Sunday. Standing in front of the Coach Inn where he was staying, he was swapping flood stories with a fellow rider, Scott "Lifesaver" Salsi of Summerville. He said the water got up to the saddlebags of his motorcycle, about thigh high.

"And strong," Bright said. "It'll take you away if you're not careful."

The water was over the road, by Ingles, the grocery store, Bright said. Earlier that day, Bright said they went to six restaurants trying to find coffee in the lull between storms about 1 p.m. -- and none of them had their water on. He said after all they went through, he thinks he has earned his "road name" for their sober motorcycle group, Association of Recovering Motorcyclists.

Summerville, Trion, and Lyerly were hit the hardest, said John King, fire chief of the Gore Fire Department in a phone interview.

"There have been a lot of cars with people trapped in them from floods, and a lot of people with their houses flooded," King said. "Downtown Summerville is a mess, it's been terrible."

Sunday afternoon, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency in Chattooga and Floyd counties. A state of emergency gives coordinating power of first responders to the state of Georgia and makes available state and federal resources.

In a phone interview Sunday evening, Mark Schrader, the sheriff of Chattooga County, said the waters had subsided and emergency calls had slowed down.

Just a few minutes before the interview, he had an emergency call about people stranded in their house by floodwaters, but most of the dozen or so calls for people needing help at their homes came in earlier in the day.

He said he had four or five calls from people whose vehicles stalled in flood waters.

There were no injuries or fatalities reported, and Schrader said transportation officials were coming to Chattooga County to inspect a few bridges that had been damaged by floodwaters. He said the water was still too high to determine the extent of the bridges' damage.

Multiple business in downtown Summerville were flooded, and Schrader said there were four of five inches of rainwater at the sheriff's office downtown facility. It's too soon to know the extent of property damages, he said.

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Schrader said the county has had "tremendous" support from statewide agencies, and he spoke with Kemp earlier Sunday. He credited nearby counties for their support, too.

"A lot of Summerville residents are without water," Schrader said, but he didn't have any information beyond that.

Earl Rainwater said there was flooding near the funeral home he owns, Rainwater Funeral Home. He said his water is off, which makes it impossible to do his work at the funeral home.

The Summerville News reported that Janice Galloway, Summerville city manager, hopes to restore water to Summerville and Menlo in less than a week. A boil water advisory is in place for both cities, and city officials are arranging for water tanks to be brought to the area.

Summerville Mayor Harry Harvey could not be reached for comment.

Rainwater said a friend has been conducting rescues by boat and kayak. He said there've been a lot of "non-thinking" people who believe they can drive through flooded intersections. "If you're driving down the road and you come to some swift-moving water across the road, don't try to go through it," Rainwater said. "Turn around. Turn around!"

As the county's coroner as well, Rainwater confirmed there had been no deaths due to flooding in Chattooga County.

He said he has a police scanner and has heard first responders rescue people from trailer parks in low-lying areas.

"Water's right at the level of their front door," he said.

On its website, the National Weather Service's Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Services said water levels will cover Rome Boulevard and approach The Summerville Times building. In Trion, the Mount Vernon Mills buildings, homes on First and Second streets near the levee, and residences on Park Avenue and Dalton and Cooper streets "are flooded with 5 to 8 feet of water."

Contact Andrew Wilkins at awilkins@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.