Habersham County remains under a local State of Emergency in the wake of severe weekend flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Delta.
Habersham County Chairman Stacy Hall signed the local emergency order on Sunday. It remains in effect until further notice. Hall says officials from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) arrived in the county this weekend and are among those assessing the damage.
“The County road crew and first responders are working very quickly to assess damage, begin repairs, and above all making sure folks are safe. I want to commend their incredible efforts thus far,” Hall said in a news release.
At least a half dozen bridges were washed out and many more roads were damaged or blocked by downed trees. Hall stressed, “We are working as quickly as possible to clear roads and begin repairs.”
Habersham County Emergency Management has issued a resource request for strike teams to assist with road repair.
Water rescues and evacuations
The storm that blew in from the Gulf flooded many homes and areas in Habersham County, leaving people stranded and many without electricity or water.
Roads and bridges collapsed under the force of rushing floodwaters, stranding people inside their homes and neighborhoods. Local emergency crews used rafts and tow lines to rescue stranded residents from porches and rooftops. They rescued several families in the Soque Trail subdivision. Those who were able to remain in their homes took in their displaced neighbors.
Washed out roads also stranded residents along North Falling Waters Road, Paradise Park, Waco Smith Road, Earnest Dover, and Twisting Ridge Trail. Residents in those areas are now relying on each other for food, water, and other essentials. In the Falling Waters subdivision Sunday morning, neighbors shuttled bottled water in a wagon across the swollen creek to help those stuck on the dead-end side of the collapsed road.
At least a dozen other area roads were damaged or flooded by the storm.
Cleanup, outages and repairs
The Demorest Police Station and Demorest Wastewater Treatment Facility were also affected by flooding. Runoff from the rain flowed down Central Avenue/U.S. 441 into the police station, carrying with it mud from a cracked retainer wall. Hazel Creek overflowed its banks, submerging part of the wastewater treatment facility. Public works crews spent much of the day Sunday cleaning up the mess.
Downed trees and power lines shut down part of Central Avenue in front of Piedmont College, forcing uneasy detours onto the narrow Demorest Lake Road. Linemen from Georgia Power and Habersham EMC spent much of Sunday working to restore power to the college and surrounding homes and businesses. They reopened the road to traffic Sunday evening.
The storm knocked out electricity to hundreds of people in Habersham and surrounding counties. By late Sunday, most of the outages were restored.
Water service, too, was interrupted. Collapsed roads damaged several Demorest water mains and Clarkesville had to revert to using its elevated storage tanks because the city’s water plant could not pump water from the river. As a result, officials from both cities, along with the mayor of Baldwin, asked customers to conserve water until further notice. Demorest issued a Boil Water Advisory as a precaution.
Habersham County Emergency Services (HCES) Director Chad Black says rescue operations were completed Sunday. Those operations included a voluntary evacuation of approximately 100 residents living downstream of a compromised private lake dam in White County. Water was overflowing the dam, raising concerns it might burst.
Meanwhile, emergency personnel in White County evacuated a campground at the end of Cripple Creek Lane, east of Cleveland. White County Public Safety Director David Murphy says campers at Riverside RV Park were evacuated “as a precautionary measure.” Murphy says most people in the campground had primary homes they could go to and no shelters were set up.
Around the time of those evacuations, an Emergency Alert was mistakenly issued that left many people in White County worried about a potential dam burst. No such incident occurred and Murphy quickly issued a statement through local media to calm people’s fears.
The dam was inspected and late Monday morning, Habersham County issued an all-clear for residents to return to their homes.
Elsewhere in Northeast Georgia, heavy flooding was reported along the Tallulah River in southwestern Rabun County. Police closed numerous streets in Gainesville on Sunday due to flooding. And the National Weather Service issued a high water alert for the North Georgia Power Reservoirs as excessive flow worked through the system.
Warnings and hazards
From early Saturday into Sunday, the remnants of Hurricane Delta dumped 6-6.5 inches of rain across Habersham County, with locally isolated amounts of around 8 inches reported in some areas. The Chattahoochee and Soque Rivers crested at over six feet above flood stage.
Even as the rain subsided, the sheer volume of runoff caused the National Weather Service to extend its Flood Warning for Habersham and Rabun counties until 2 p.m. Monday. All other area watches and warnings were lifted.
As Delta moves out, calmer weather replaces it. There’s no significant rain in the forecast for the coming week. That’s good news for public utility and road crews, as well as homeowners, who have a lot of cleanup and recovery work ahead of them.
Habersham County E-911 Director Lynn Smith says there were no reports of any injuries as a result of the extreme weather and flooding. Commissioner Hall asks the community to join him in “praying for everyone’s safety.”
Local officials urge the public to stay vigilant and avoid all flooded roadways, bridges, and underpasses. Use extra caution when traveling on roads near creeks, rivers, and streams where flooding may have washed out the dirt under the asphalt.
Anyone needing immediate emergency assistance should call 911. To report road hazards or other non-emergencies in Habersham County dial 706-778-3911.