Yellow River runs wild
Unprecedented flood ruins roads and homes, keeps rescuers busy

COVINGTON - Areas adjacent to the Yellow River in western Newton County have seen flooding before, but nobody remembers seeing it as bad as it was Tuesday.

Residents of Riverside Estates Mobile Home Park on Access Road and those on West Dollar Circle and Sycamore Road were glancing hopefully at the sunshine and blue sky visible around noon, but rescue workers from Newton County Fire Service were reminding them the flood waters were still moving downstream from Conyers and were not expected to crest for several hours.

Brown, debris-filled, foul-smelling waters could be seen rising minute by minute, yet some refused to leave their homes. Others had had enough and were asking to be rescued. Firefighters took boats through areas that had been dry only hours before to reach them.

"Some of them just couldn't get out of there. We advised them (Monday to leave) but some of them just refused to listen," said NCFS Deputy Chief Tim Smith.

Smith said just after the torrential rains that hit the area Monday evening a house at 100 Almon Church Road partially collapsed after the basement filled with more than 4 feet of water. He said six people were at the home at the time of the collapse.

The two-story, single-family dwelling has a brick facade and about two-thirds of the bricks fell into the basement below. The homeowner, Ann Hall, estimated the damage to be about $50,000 and said she was told by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) the damage would be considered storm damage to the house's structure and not flood damage. She said her insurance carrier is denying responsibility, however.

"This has really opened my eyes. People are paying out the ying/yang and then the insurance companies try to do a double loop to get out of paying. There should be a line drawn. It's not right," she said.

Randy Clark and Charles Elmore, members of Shiloh United Methodist Church in Almon, were on site at the damaged home Tuesday afternoon.

"We're trying to do whatever we can for them ... get them in a hotel room or apartment ... maybe pump the water out of the basement," Clark said.

Anyone who would like to assist the family can do so by contacting the church at 770-787-1087.

Smith said the normal level for the Yellow River is between 4 and 61/2 feet - waters reached 21.54 feet around noon Tuesday and were expected to crest around 23 feet.

The rising water reached the steel underpinning of the Brown Bridge Road bridge near Ram Drive Tuesday afternoon around 2 p.m., causing that major thoroughfare to be closed from Turner Lake Road to Crowell Road.

"Water is hitting the bridge beams and once you start getting water against the bridge beams, there's always the possibility of structural damage. This is pretty much historic for this river," said Deputy Director Jody Nolan of Newton County Emergency/Risk Management. "I think it will set a new standard for the Yellow River."

Buses leaving Newton High School and Porterdale Elementary were routed behind the two schools in the direction of Porterdale in order to deliver students living west of the school.

"The biggest challenge is going to be getting kids to the Almon area," Nolan said.

The bridge on Ga. Highway 81 in Porterdale attracted many sightseers Tuesday afternoon and officials were keeping a watchful eye as waters rose perilously close to the steel underpinning of that structure, as well.

Other road closings included Cook Road in the vicinity of Bald Rock Road; Sockwell Road; Crowell Road between Brown Bridge and I-20; Harold Dobbs Road; Channing Cope Road; Almon Church Road; King Bostwick Road, East Dollar Circle; Lower River Road and Stewart Road.

Nolan warned that despite a clear day Tuesday, the flooding was not over.

"The waters are going to hover for quite some time," he said. "It's really not going to get back down below flood stage for between 48 to 72 hours. It will recede as slowly as it rose."

He also cautioned motorists that there could be roadways with standing water that remained unmarked because Newton County Public Works Department may not have been notified of the potential danger.

"Any water moving across the roadway can turn into a life-threatening situation," he said. "We could have more road closings before this is all over."

Nolan said also the Alcovy and South rivers would have rising waters within the next 24 hours that could possibly impact the area and urged caution in those areas, as well.

Barbara Knowles can be reached at barbara.knowles@newtoncitizen.com

SideBar: Schools Closed

The Newton County School System announced late Tuesday that due to flood conditions that have resulted in road closings and bridge outages, all Newton County public schools will be closed today.