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Burst Levee Forces 1,000 To Flee Homes In Flooded Alabama Town

March 18, 1990

Undated (AP) _ Muddy floodwaters filled a Southern Alabama courthouse, submerged a school and forced at least 1,500 people out of their homes after a levee burst Saturday under the strain of 16 inches of rain in two days.

″I have a feeling when I go back everything I own will be gone,″ said Debra Samuel, who fled her home less than a mile from the ruptured levee on the Pea River at Elba.

Also in Alabama, six people drowned when their car ran off a back road into a rain-swollen creek where a bridge had washed out, while a Georgia woman died after she apparently drove into a creek and her car was washed away.

Most of western Georgia was under flood warnings Saturday although rain had finally tapered off after a two-day deluge. In Mississippi, about 35 homes were flooded in Jackson County and several roads were washed out after 14 inches of rain fell in two days, officials reported.

No injuries were immediately reported in Elba, a town of 4,400 about 70 miles southeast of Montgomery, where the earthen levee gave way about 6:30 a.m. Rescuers in boats plucked residents from rooftops and trees as the waters rose, said Sheriff Brice Paul.

The town was without electricity, and officials said there were many gas leaks but no fires.

Military helicopters picked up at least four people, said Bill Hayes, an Army spokesman at nearby Fort Rucker. The helicopters also were ferrying food to flood-stricken areas.

Witnesses said water was up to second-story windows of the Coffee County Courthouse, higher than it reached in a record 1929 flood.

Cecil Rainey, a representative from Gov. Guy Hunt’s office who toured the area by helicopter, said, ″Water in downtown Elba is up to the rooftops. It’s to the top of the school.″

Mark Oberfield, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham, said rain had been heavy throughout southeast Alabama, including 16.8 inches in Troy and 16.3 inches in Andalusia over the past 48 hours.

While the sun peeked out Saturday in the region, forecasters said rivers would continue rising. Weather service records showed the flooding was the worst in more than 60 years in some areas.

The weather service said the Pea River was expected to crest at about 47 feet at Elba late Saturday, 17 feet above flood stage. The river reached 43.5 feet in 1929.

Elba Mayor Fred Moore said at least 1,500 people had been forced to leave their homes.

Most roads were flooded and telephone lines were down, and officials were trying to set up emergency communications. The Red Cross was sending in rescue workers from as far away as Birmingham, some 160 miles away.

Downstream from Elba in Geneva, more than 300 people were evacuated in anticipation of flooding, said Margaret Mixon, director of the Geneva County Emergency Management Agency. About 50 miles southwest, downtown Brewton was covered by 6 feet of water from the Murder and Burnt Corn creeks.

Also south of Elba, near the Florida border, six people died when their car ran off a county road into a roaring creek late Friday. Coroner Norman Hobson said the driver apparently did not realize the bridge on the road between Florala and Samson was gone.

″There was a small barrier there, but nobody knows whether it was put up before or after the wreck,″ he said.

State troopers identified the dead as driver James Ingram Burkett, 43, of Florala; his wife, Sandra, 44; their son, Jamie, 14; Jason Randolph Johnson, 20, of Miami; Michael Chambers, 29, of Florala; and Lorraine C. Campbell, 29, of McAplin, Fla.

Authorities in Henry County, Ga., found the body of a woman in a creek Saturday afternoon. The woman, whose name was not immediately released, apparently drove into a creek and her car was washed away, said county Sheriff’s Capt. Kenneth McBrayer.

Elsewhere in Georgia, Peachtree Creek in Atlanta flooded, the weather service said, and the entire Chattahoochee River was under a flood warning from Atlanta in northern Georgia to Lake Seminole in the southwest corner of the state.

Several roads in the counties surrounding Atlanta were closed early Saturday and scattered neighborhood evacuations were reported. Two traffic fatalities in Cobb County north of Atlanta on Friday night were attributed to rain-slicked roads.

Rain that had pounded southeastern Mississippi for two days stopped Saturday after flooding about 35 homes in Jackson County.

″Before the weekend goes, we could see at least another 30 (homes) with water in them,″ said Hank Turk, Jackson County public safety director. Road crews were working to put down sandbags as the Pascagoula and Escatawpa rivers rise.

In southeast Tennessee, nearly a foot of water was reported Saturday in the streets of Copperhill and Ducktown in Polk County, but it was receding by afternoon. An undetermined number of people had voluntarily left their homes, but there was no ordered evacuation, said David King, emergency operations officer from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency in Nashville.

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