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Floods Drive Thousands From Homes

March 11, 1998

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) _ The waters keep rising on the Flint River, driving thousands from their homes in a chilling echo of the state’s worst natural disaster just four years ago.

The flooding in this southwestern Georgia town has swamped roads, closed bridges and shut down schools. A white coffin floated through a cemetery Tuesday, carried by brown floodwaters.

``We saw the same thing last time,″ Samuel Gaines said amid the wooden chairs and clothes piled on his family’s porch. ``My mom’s house has already been flooded. My sisters and my niece _ all of them are flooded.″

Across the South, creeks swollen with rain wreaked havoc even as a bitter cold snap threatened crops. The waters were receding Tuesday in Elba, Ala., where a levee burst over the weekend, forcing 2,000 to flee their homes.

And in the Midwest, where the fierce weather came as snow and howling winds, recovery efforts sought to clear highways and turn on electricity for thousands so people could return home.

The storms were blamed for at least 15 deaths in the Midwest. At least 10 died in the South.

In and around Albany, 11,000 residents fled their homes, bitter at the similarity to the disaster that hit in 1994.

Fueled by rains from that year’s Tropical Storm Alberto, 31 were killed and 34,000 evacuated when the Flint River crested at 44 feet. It was at 37 feet Tuesday and was expected to crest at 38.5 feet as early as Thursday.

``It was supposed to have been a 500-year flood, but it ain’t been but four years,″ Dougherty County Sheriff Jamil Saba said.

Billy Jackson looked down a closed road where water seeped toward his four rental homes.

``It feels kind of like a death in your family,″ he said. ``If it burned down, you would have felt better.″

Albany State University was nearly deserted after most of the 3,000 students and faculty left when classes were canceled indefinitely Monday.

``I wanted to stay and see what happens, but I just want to go now,‴ said Gaberilla Green, a sophomore from Vidalia, who held a white teddy bear as her roommate piled duffel bags of clothing into a car.

``It’s a waste. A total waste,″ Ms. Green said as she gazed at the water creeping toward her dorm, one of several built since 1994.

Some 100 National Guardsmen arrived Tuesday to help volunteers filling sandbags. A curfew was out, while authorities were on the lookout for looters, who caused problems in 1994 _ even stealing by boat.

Riverside Cemetery, where floodwaters raised two caskets, was one of two cemeteries where more than 400 caskets were unearthed four years ago. All the remains, including those of 97 people that were never identified, were reburied.

Three shelters were open, but many evacuees were staying with friends.

``I’ve been wondering if my place is all right. I’d hate to lose everything,″ said Arlane Clark, 37, one of about 200 people staying at the Bill Miller Community Center. Dark green cots and a dinner of rice, beef stew, green beans and peaches were provided, along with toiletries and diapers for infants.

``Oh God, I don’t even want to think about it _ everything soaking wet,″ said her sister, Redver Clark, 39.

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