Habersham County assessing flood damage, updates list of closed roads

This car on Rodeo Circle just south of Clarkesville was submerged by flooding from a nearby creek. (photo courtesy Red Bird Media)

Habersham County remains under a local state of emergency following severe weekend flooding that washed out roads and bridges, damaged homes and public buildings, and left people stranded in a half dozen neighborhoods.

The emergency declaration signed by the county commission chair on October 11 authorizes the county to make emergency purchases and invoke local ordinances. It also paves the way for financial assistance from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) if certain economic damage thresholds are met.

“We have never experienced [so much] rain so quickly. This was very unexpected,” says Habersham County Emergency Management Director Lynn Smith. The remnants of Hurricane Delta dumped over 8 inches of rain on the north end of the county and close to that in other parts of the county.

Smith and her staff spent overnight Saturday through early morning Sunday coordinating the county’s emergency response efforts. At least 20 people were rescued by boat from flooded structures during the storm, including mobile homes and houses.

A Voluntary Evacuation Notice was issued on Sunday, October 11. Approximately 70 residents along the Chattahoochee River were asked to temporarily vacate their residences due to concerns over a private lake dam’s possible deterioration in White County. Those residents, and 100 others who were evacuated in White County, were given the all-clear to return to their homes on October 12.

Receding water reveals damage

A swollen stream washed out a section of the main road in Falling Waters subdivision in Demorest leaving about 20 homeowners stranded on a dead end.

As floodwaters receded, the extent of the damage became visible. More than sixty county roads were affected by the storms spurred by Hurricane Delta. Dozens more were impacted in cities across the county.

Staff from the Habersham County Public Works Department and the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) are assessing the damage and gathering repair estimates. The DOT will forward its estimate to the Governor’s office, which will then determine whether to issue a Georgia state of emergency order. If that happens, it will automatically activate a FEMA response, making Habersham County eligible for certain types of state and federal funding to reimburse the costs of repairing roads, bridges, and other structures.

On Tuesday, Habersham County released the following updated list of closed roads along with an estimated timetable for repairs:

• Waco Smith Rd – Due to be complete 10/13
• Earnest Dover– Due to be complete 10/13
• East Mize Rd– Due to be complete 10/13
• Creasy Patch off Mud Creek– Due to be complete 10/16
• New Liberty – Open, but still needs repairs
• Beaver Dam Rd– Due to be complete 10/13
• Amys Creek Road x 2 – Not yet repaired
• Hazelwood/Hazel Creek– Due to be complete 10/16
• Yonah Post Rd– Due to be complete 10/13
• Turnerville Circle– Due to be complete 10/13
• Thompson Rd/Wilbanks– Due to be complete 10/13
• Gilstrap/Gainesville – Not yet repaired
• Paradise Park Rd. – private road
• Soque Trail – private road
• Twisting Ridge Trail – private road
• Cross Creek Trail – private road
• Foggy Creek Ln – private road
• Old River/Old Timber – private road

A section of the road collapsed at Paradise Park. (photo by Rick Austin)

Habersham County Public Information Officer Carolyn McDuffie says county officials are looking at the quickest way to get roads back open and adds that various county departments are closely working together throughout this process. Road maintenance crews are working seven days a week in conjunction with private contractors to make road repairs.

McDuffie points out that the most critical issue at this point is giving all residents and businesses access to the road network. “The emphasis of repairs are focused to reopening roads that are a single point of access to residences and farms,” she says.

Cleaning up and conserving water

According to Habersham County Facilities Management Director Mike Bramlett, only one county-maintained building was damaged by the storm and that was the Clarkesville Library. The storm flooded the approximate 9,600 square-foot facility.

“At present we have not had any other major issues with any county-maintained buildings,” Bramlett says.

Runoff from the heavy rain flooded at least two non-county owned public buildings – the Clarkesville Fire Department and Demorest Police Station. Flooding also affected water treatment plants in both towns.

“We are trying to get the [fire department] building dried out and cleaned up,” says Clarkesville City Manager Keith Dickerson. He adds, “Several curb areas washed away and we will be doing repairs to those as soon as we can.”

This section of the Demorest Water Treatment Facility was partially submerged when adjacent Hazel Creek overran its banks.

The Clarkesville Water Plant had some flooding but the motors were tested and are operational. Clarkesville is no longer asking its customers to conserve water.

The same can not be said of Baldwin, where Mayor Joe Elam is urging residents to watch their water consumption.

“We’re asking people to conserve any and all water at this time,” Elam tells Now Habersham. He says the Baldwin Water Plant is not producing potable water at the same levels it normally does. “We’re struggling,” he says, explaining that the water sources are dirtier than they should be and it’s taking longer to clean for distribution. The delayed process affects Baldwin’s 2,000 plus customers and everyone on the Demorest system since Demorest gets most of its water from Baldwin.

That’s an association that’s proven vitally important in recent days.

Baldwin and Demorest water crews have been working together to repair damaged pipes and restore service to areas throughout the county. “We’ve seen a lot of collaboration since the storm hit,” says Demorest Mayor Rick Austin. “I’m very appreciative of a sister municipality reaching out to help. We took them up on that and they helped us out in a pinch and I am very grateful.”

This house off of Heads Ferry in Cornelia was flooded by the rising waters of the Chatahoochee River. (photo by Kelsey Ondriezek)

The mayors urge residents in Demorest and Baldwin to continue to conserve water until the situation eases. A Boil Water Advisory issued Sunday for Demorest water customers whose service was disrupted during or immediately following the storm remains in effect until further notice.

Demorest City Manager Kim Simonds says it could be several more days before the road damage in the city is repaired. Cornelia announced Monday that three of its downtown roads will remain closed for at least three months. Habersham County expects to have all of its roads and bridges passable by the end of this week.

As for homeowners, Director Smith says residents should report Hurricane Delta property damage to Habersham County E-911 through the non-emergency line at 706-778-3911. Those calling will be asked to provide their address, name, contact number, description of damages, and the total dollar amount of damages.

“If you get a busy signal, please try again,” Smith says. The county will submit the damage reports to the state to see if the county qualifies for any type of emergency funding.

This article has been updated with additional information 

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