Storm's toll tallied as floodwaters recede

Storm's toll tallied as floodwaters recede

September 7th, 2011 by Joy Lukachick Smith and Kate Belz in News

A BMW on Signal Mountain Boulevard was crushed by a tree that fell during heavy rainstorms overnight Tuesday.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


Hamilton County -- one hour delay

All others open at regular time


Location / Rainfall total*

Charleston, Tenn. 12.7 inches

Georgetown, Tenn. 11.3 inches

Scottsboro, Ala. 10.5 inches

Cleveland, Tenn. 10.4 inches

Chickamauga, Ga. 10.0 inches

Henagar, Ala. 9.1 inches

Flat Rock, Ala. 8.6 inches

Chickamauga Dam 8.2 inches

Athens, Tenn. 7.9 inches

Etowah, Tenn. 6.5 inches

* Total rainfall measured from 6 a.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Tuesday

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority River Operations Center

RINGGOLD, Ga. - As the swirling, murky water rose above the first step of Wendy and Jimmy Crysel's trailer, they braced themselves for the worst.

The Fort Oglethorpe couple had lost nearly everything in the floods of September 2009, which gushed four feet of water into their trailer. Most of their extra clothes and furniture were still piled under a plastic-tarped shed in the front yard off Karen Drive -- a neighborhood behind Costco that's prone to flooding in foul weather.

On Monday night, as the rain kept falling and the water kept rising, they feared they would lose everything again. But the water never rose above the first step.

"My heart's been hurting," Wendy Crysel said Tuesday.

As the remains of Tropical Storm Lee hovered over the Chattanooga area, dumping a record-breaking 10 inches of water in a 24-hour period, residents prepared for a disaster, while forecasters predicted far-reaching flooding.

By Tuesday morning, thousands were without power, trees leaned on power lines, roads and roofs, and water seeped into basements and a handful of schools. But the flooding stopped short of a larger disaster, forecasters said.

"The amounts of rain were unbelievable," said WRCB-TV-Channel 3 chief meteorologist Paul Barys. "[But] the ground was like a sponge."

Even through the parched ground from the August drought soaked up nearly half the flood waters, the storm still was costly for the Chattanooga area.

A Brainerd woman was killed Monday night when a tree crushed her as she was trying to move her cars to safety.

Several Catoosa County, Ga., families had to be rescued from their homes through the night. Others were stranded in their cars after misjudging the depth of a submerged street.

At least 32,000 homes in Hamilton County were affected by the storm, Red Cross officials said. And some Tennessee residents likely won't have power restored until Thursday evening.


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As the rain fell in sheets, forecasters eyed the frequently flooding South Chickamauga Creek, expecting waters to swell past the flood stages to nearly 25 feet.

By Tuesday afternoon, Barys said, the creek had reached 21.6 feet and he had already heard reports of cresting in North Georgia. But the river was predicted to crest in Chattanooga at 2 a.m. today at 23.5 feet, he said.

"We were fortunate," Barys said.

Overflowing creeks and rivers covered some roads, forcing police to block impassable routes in downtown Chattanooga, Hixson, Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold throughout Tuesday.

In the creek under the Alabama Highway bridge near Interstate 75 in Ringgold, fallen trees from the April tornado blocked the water in several places, creating small dams. Ringgold police and Public Works employees were eyeing the creek's rise but didn't expect any evacuations.

But on LaFayette Street -- a main road in downtown Ringgold -- water splashed across the road, flooding low yards and a public park. Police stood by, ready to close the road when cars no longer could safely pass.

Some Catoosa County residents who live in low areas prone to flooding sat in the dark after their power went out at midnight, hoping the water would stop rising.

On Sunday, Fort Oglethorpe resident Jason Phy sent his wife and their two children to her mother's home in LaFayette after he saw the forecast for Monday.

"That's the last thing I want is for them to get stuck down here," he said while standing in his yard, looking at a large tree fallen over his telephone line.

In Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority was spilling water through Chickamauga, Nickajack, Guntersville, Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick dams to help handle the heavy rains spawned by the storm, TVA spokesman Travis Brickey said.

Chuck Bach, general manager of river scheduling for TVA, said he doesn't anticipate any flooding problems on the main Tennessee River and TVA is trying to limit flooding in low-lying farm areas below the Pickwick Dam near Savannah, Tenn., which often flood during heavy rains.


About 11 p.m. Monday, Bob Moates heard a loud thump at Marty and Micki Hare's house across the street.

He wasn't sure what it was, but he figured it was a tree, just like the one that had fallen into his father's driveway a few houses down.

Carrying a flashlight, Moates headed over to Hares' house at 7305 Elaine Circle, calling them on his cell phone as he walked. The answering machine picked up.

"Hey man," Moates said to the machine, "Marty, you've got a tree down in your yard."

Hare came out of the house and told Moates he couldn't find his wife anywhere. Moates flashed his light on the ground.

There she was.

Micki Hare was killed, crushed while trying to move her cars to safety, Chattanooga police spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary said. She was found in the driveway under a tree.

Although Marty Hare declined to talk Tuesday about what had happened, Moates said he doesn't think the full effect of the death has hit yet.

"It's different when you have cancer and you're expecting it," Moates said. "But this was just so sudden."


East Ridge, typically the first area to become waterlogged when South Chickamauga Creek overflows, was spared a deluge this time.

"All in all, the county was really spared a major blow this time," said Bill Tittle, chief of emergency management for Hamilton County Emergency Services as he toured East Ridge Tuesday afternoon. "I'm actually very surprised it wasn't worse."

But Rex and Freida Wheeler were getting ready in case that changed, boxing up items in their basement and stationing a trailer and two boats in front of their house on Nottingham Drive in East Ridge. Their neighbors had parked a moving truck out front.

Last year, the creek at the end of their street flooded the structures with more than five feet of water.

"You just can never be sure," said Freida Wheeler, who is director of city services for East Ridge. "It seems as though we really have been fortunate this time around."

The only road closed in East Ridge Tuesday was Camp Jordan Parkway, which had turned into a small lake by Tuesday afternoon.


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Though Chattanooga avoided major flooding Tuesday, downed trees and widespread power outages kept crews working around the clock in the misting rain.

About 450 EPB crews and contractors from as far away as Texas spent all day untangling branches from snapped power lines, lugging trees from the roads and reconnecting wires.

"The way some of these trees fall into the lines, it ends up functioning like a slingshot," said EPB lineman Brian Pankey. "It's an intricate process trying to get it all cleaned up and reconnected."

At the peak of the storm, 59,000 homes and residents were in blackout, but by late Tuesday power had been restored to all but 17,000, said EPB spokeswoman Danna Bailey said.

But Bailey said it could take until Thursday evening to restore power to the entire region.

In North Georgia, 1,450 residents still were without power as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to North Georgia Electric Membership Corporation officials.

Across North Chattanooga, large trees were strewn across thoroughfares. Cars drove past roadblocks and up onto the sidewalk to get around a giant oak blocking Hixson Pike.

At one home on Hanover Street, a large crane and half a dozen crew members worked to extract a large oak that had fallen onto the roof, then broken through a huge window on the house's second floor.

"This city's definitely suffered from some serious weather events this year," said Matt Brown, project manager with Raines Brothers Inc., which was coordinating the home's repair. "I've lived here 42 years, and the weather we've had this year has been the craziest I've ever seen."


With the rain tapering off Tuesday night, the Chattanooga region should enjoy a cool breeze and 70-degree daytime weather for the rest of the week, said Kate Guillet, a National Weather Service forecaster in Morristown, Tenn.

Today there will be a 30 percent chance of rain, but the chances decline into the weekend, she said. Over the weekend, the temperatures should reach only into the 80s.

Meanwhile, all the rain created an unexpected surprise for some residents.

Churning water gushing out of the spillways down by the Chickamauga Dam created ideal fishing conditions for Patrick Newson, who landed a 40-pound drum off the banks near the dam Tuesday afternoon.

"There are all kinds of big fish swimming around in water like this," he said. "When the dams are spilling, I try to be out here."

And 11-year-old Tyler Cockrum squealed with delight Tuesday afternoon when he saw a school of fish rush across the ditch near his Fort Oglethorpe yard. He ran to get a plastic bottle and string.

"Hopefully I'll be able to catch one. Even if it's just a tadpole I'll be happy," he said.

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