September 23rd, 2009 by Adam Crisp in News

Regina Rice thought the worst had come and gone Monday when flood waters lightly touched her East Ridge front porch, then began to recede.

"And then we woke up with two feet of water in the house," Ms. Rice said Tuesday as her sons and husband trudged through the Swope Drive home, carrying all their possessions to dry land. "Everything -- our family pictures and furniture -- is all wet now."

Flood waters are expected to continue receding today and homeowners may be allowed to return to their residences in East Ridge and Northwest Georgia following the most extensive flood in six years.

On Tuesday, flood waters breached dozens of homes and displaced more than 500 people in both states.

During the storm, more than 10 inches of rain accumulated in the Tri-State area. One man in Chattanooga and a teenage boy in Trion, Ga., died in the storm. They were among five deaths in Georgia and one in Alabama.

In Chattanooga, Chickamauga Creek crested just below 28.5 feet Tuesday evening and then began to subside. It was the fourth-highest recorded level for the creek that flows from Georgia to the Tennessee River.

The record was 29.3 feet in 2003. Eighteen feet is considered flood stage on the creek.

Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Allen Rice, Zach Shirley, Jacob Shirley and Danny Shirley, from left, remove two mattresses from their home on Swope Drive in East Ridge Tuesday. Heavy rainfall caused water from area creeks to flood areas throughout Chattanooga and North Georgia.

Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Allen Rice, Zach Shirley,...

Georgia saw the extensive flooding first, prompting evacuations Monday in Fort Oglethorpe and Trion and dozens of road closures.

"The water is still high," said Catoosa County Emergency Management Agency Director Steve Quinn. "We are still having to do evacuations, just like East Ridge."

The water had subsided enough on Tuesday for the management of Battlewood Apartments in Fort Oglethorpe to inspect the damage. Mr. Quinn said it could take up to a week for some homeowners to start repairs or return home.

Compared to 2003, Mr. Quinn said it seemed like the rains this week required more evacuations.

"Maybe the water rose faster, or maybe people weren't paying attention to the weather, but we were very busy doing boat rescues," he said.

When homeowners could return depends largely on the weather over the next few days, he said, and a mostly dry Tuesday helped the situation.

While they wait, more than 200 people are calling a Red Cross shelter in Brainerd home. On Tuesday, the Chattanooga area Salvation Army -- which is running the shelter's food services -- issued a call for more donations and said it had to call in two additional mobile kitchens to meet the demand.

In East Ridge, rescue workers evacuated 115 residents and staff of the East Ridge Retirement Center as well as four hotels, which also function as long-term housing for many residents.

"It's a very significant flood for us," said Officer Erik Hopkins, spokesman for the East Ridge police. "It affects a large number of residences and businesses."

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., surveyed the area Tuesday afternoon before heading back to Washington, D.C., for a congressional vote.

He said the damage rose to the level of a 2003 flood, which he thought made Hamilton County eligible for a federal disaster declaration that can bring federal money for repairs.

"Though the water is receding in Georgia, East Ridge is hard hit again," Rep. Wamp said. "We've been through this before, and clearly there needs to be a disaster declaration."

In Georgia, dozens of flooded roads were closed in Catoosa and Walker counties. In Chickamauga, most of the water seemed to be receding but people were canoeing on the ballfields at the Howard "Baba" Hill sports complex.

And in Rossville, Pastor Dick Hillis of Mountain View Church of Christ said parishioners were lucky that flood waters in the building ruined little more than carpets.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue asked President Barack Obama for an emergency declaration to assist 17 Georgia counties including Catoosa, Walker and Chattooga. The governor also declared a state of emergency for those counties.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep Nathan Deal, R-Ga., visited Walker County on Tuesday and met with officials assessing flood damage.

"It is times such as these when the federal government should be there to help," Rep. Deal said in a news release.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has not made the same declaration, and Hamilton County Emergency Services Director Don Allen said officials would wait to survey the damage before seeking the disaster status. Such surveys won't happen until Thursday, he estimated, when flood waters will have drawn back.

The county must have $955,000 in uninsured and/or public property damage as a result of the storm, said Jeremy Heidt, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. And the state must have $7 million in combined damage for Tennessee to qualify for the designation.

Mr. Heidt said the relatively large number of human casualties in Georgia, along with the speed with which some areas flooded, made the disaster designation much faster for the Peach State.

"We need to wait for the water to go down in Tennessee before we can make an assessment," Mr. Heidt said.