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Eastern U.S. Storm Brings Flooding

January 8, 1998

A huge storm stretching from Mississippi to Quebec forced residents from their homes today, closing highways and schools, damaging houses and killing at least five people. More than a million customers were without electricity as ice froze on power lines in the Northeast and Canada.

The emergency spillway on a small dam at the Archusa Creek Water Park in Quitman, Miss., failed this morning, sending a gush of floodwaters downstream and prompting evacuations of low-lying areas in the communities of Desoto and Shubuta. A 480-acre lake at the recreational park was virtually emptied.

``The weather service told us to expect a 3-foot to 5-foot flood wave, a gush, downstream and that’s above what is already moving down the creek,″ said Jenice Fleming, a sheriff’s department dispatcher in Quitman.

In North Carolina, heavy rains across the western part of the state _ as much as 13 inches in some spots on Wednesday _ forced dozens from their homes. Thirty National Guardsmen were called up to help in evacuations.

``It’s an incredible amount of water to come down in 24 hours,″ Tom Hegele with the state Division of Emergency Management said today. ``It all funnels downhill and into creeks and streams and it can’t go anywhere but out.″

Just north of Marion, N.C., flea market manager Ted McKinney was philosophical about flood waters that washed his trailer, tables and a van into the Catawba River, causing about $10,000 in damage.

`’The guy upstairs gave it to us. He’ll take it away,″ McKinney said. ``We hope to be back in business tomorrow.″

In Greensboro, a mudslide pushed down a 30-foot retaining wall at an apartment complex, damaging several cars.

``We’ve got power lines down everywhere, people fallen and hurt themselves, people panicking and calling 911, mud in the road,″ Transylvania County Fire Marshal Gerald Grose said late Wednesday. A number of culverts had washed out on roads and at least six mudslides blocked roads in the county.

Flooding from the slow-moving system was blamed for two deaths Wednesday. Floodwaters south of Birmingham, Ala., swept a 5-year-old girl to her death, and a 62-year-old Owingsville, Ky., woman drowned when she fell off a foot bridge into a rain-swollen creek.

In Carter County, Tenn., three people were confirmed dead today in flooding there. A police helicopter rescued 18 people from a rooftop in the county, near the eastern tip of the state. One rescue worker was missing after his boat capsized, and another worker in the boat had to cling to a tree for six hours before being saved.

It wasn’t just rain in some areas: It was wind, fog, ice, thunder or high winds. In Easley, S.C., four people were treated at hospitals late Wednesday after a storm, possibly a tornado, destroyed several mobile homes. Thunderstorm winds knocked down trees and power lines in Camden, S.C., and nearby communities, police there said.

The rainfall in Canada and parts of the Northeast turned to ice in many areas inland. The town of Sabattus, Maine, was hit so hard even road crews were told to stay home until sunrise.

``Everything is ice coated. There are trees down everywhere,″ said Janice Bailey, owner of the Settlement restaurant and grocery store, where doughnuts, cigarettes, bottled water and batteries flew off the shelves.

At 10 a.m. EST, 160,000 customers, or 30 percent of Central Maine Power’s business, were without electricity after icy buildup and wind knocked tree limbs onto power lines.

``We’re now talking about major, hurricane-type damage,″ said Central Maine Power spokesman Mark Ishkanian. In Augusta, nonessential state workers were told to stay home today. An additional 100,000 customers were reported without power in upstate New York.

``You can stand outside and hear the screech of the branches,″ said Diedre Scozzafaza, mayor of Gouverneur, N.Y. An apartment complex in Malone, another upstate town, had to be evacuated overnight because of falling trees.

Canadian power authorities said 800,000 households without power, including 150,000 in Montreal, from ice storms that struck Monday and Wednesday.

In Shubuta, Miss., downstream from the dam failure, Angela Chapman and her family struggled to move furniture and personal items from their home.

``Every time it floods, we have to move, and it has happened about five times before,″ she said. Nearby, other families struggled to drag a half-dozen mobile homes to higher ground.

Even before the dam failed today, Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice had declared a state of emergency in some areas because of the problems created by several days of heavy rain.

Some Hattiesburg area families were evacuated Wednesday after the rain sent several feet of water into their homes. Damage assessment and emergency shelter teams were on standby.

Two coffins at a church cemetery in a Hattiesburg cemetery floated to the surface due to the saturated ground.

Update hourly