Disaster center to close
Help still available for victims of recent flood

COVINGTON - More than 70 Newton County families have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster assistance following last month's flood, reporting $3.5 million in property damage, Newton County Emergency Management Director Trey Polk told county commissioners Tuesday night.

While residents can still get assistance, FEMA and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency are closing the disaster recovery center serving Newton and Rockdale counties.

The center, located in the Government Annex at 1400 Parker Road, will close at 7 p.m. Saturday. Five of the 14 centers set up to aid residents with applications for assistance are closing, according to a press release from FEMA.

"Traffic has slowed at the centers we are closing," said GEMA Director and State Coordinating Officer Charley English. "That's good news, because it means we've likely met most of the information need, and help remains available through other sources."

Those still needing assistance can apply online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585. The toll-free numbers are staffed seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Small Business Administration disaster loan outreach office will remain at the Parker Road facility.

Loans are available from the Small Business Administration to repair or replace real estate or personal property damaged by storms and flooding.

The SBA Customer Service Center can also be reached between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday by calling toll-free 1-800-659-2955. More information is available at www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance.

Newton residents can also go to disaster centers in other counties for assistance.

A Disaster Recovery Center is still open in DeKalb County, at Browns Mill Recreation Center, 5101 Browns Mill Road in Lithonia, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.

A Small Business Recovery Center recently opened in Decatur as well, at 2861 Wesley Chapel Road. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.

County officials said Tuesday night that thanks to the hard work and quick response from local public safety personnel, only property was lost in Newton County.

"We saved lives and we minimized damage. It could have been a lot worse," Commissioner Nancy Schulz said.

"Some people worked 96 hours straight. We would send them home and they would come back because they couldn't sleep. They knew somebody might be in harm's way," Chairman Kathy Morgan said.

"We had a great team effort in this community. That's something we should be proud of," she said.

Local and state officials are working to determine if the county could be in danger in the future.

According to Morgan, Newton County received only seven to eight inches of rain, but the Yellow River rose more than 20 feet. Morgan said there is 11 feet of silt built up on the river bottom, which increases the chance of flooding.

Morgan has attributed much of the flooding to stormwater runoff from DeKalb and Gwinnett counties.

"There's not going to be quick and easy answers for us," she said of trying to address future problems.

Morgan said evaluations of roadways affected by flooding are still under way. Two roads - a portion of Crowell and of Mount Tabor - remain closed. Long-term repairs could take more than a year and a half - six to nine months for design work and six months to a year for construction, she said, but added that short-term repairs may be made first to get the roads in travel-ready condition.

Though motorists may still be facing longer travel times than usual due to the road closures, Polk said Newton is in far better shape than some other counties, such as Douglas, where more than 170 roads were closed and 60 remain closed.