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South Hall flooding causes county to declare emergency

DOT reopens Ga. 13 after floodwaters recede

POSTED: May 20, 2013 12:07 a.m.

Flooding in Flowery Branch

Flooding in Flowery Branch in the area of Wayne Drive.

Nat Gurley/The Times

The Nierodizik family looks south on the Atlanta Highway at the flooding in Flowery Branch on Sunday. They heard the news in church, said Phillip Nierodzik, at right. Others are, from left, mother Amy, Jared, Michael and Elisabeth Nierodzik.

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Early Sunday storms rocked Hall County, leaving heavy flooding, collapsed roads and other damage in its wake.

The disaster left residents reeling, but it also prompted county and Flowery Branch officials to declare a state of emergency for South Hall and Hall school administrators to consider morning bus routes.

And even as residents tried to recover, they braced for more rain that would come later in the day and that was forecast for overnight Monday.

The National Weather Service automated station at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville recorded some 3 inches of rain Sunday.

But perhaps the hardest-hit area in Hall is Flowery Branch and parts of South Hall, where some 7« inches of rain fell within six hours, Hall government officials said.

At one point during the disaster, a wide stretch of Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway between Wayne Drive, which leads to about a dozen homes, and Moonie’s Texas Barbecue was about 6 feet underwater.

The Wayne Center off Ga. 13, owned by Alan and Mike Wayne, stood like a deserted island in the vast flood waters.

“I can’t clean it up until I get the water out of it,” Alan Wayne said. “My concern is more for the tenants who are occupying the building and trying to take care of them.”

Karen Bogenholm, owner of Pet Wish Pros, is one of those tenants. She, along with husband Carl and son Rob, stood at the flooded waters’ edge and looked at the building.

“There’s inventory in there we hope is not ruined,” Karen said.

“Plus computers,” Carl added.

Farther north up Ga. 13, rains flooded four Flowery Branch police cars parked at the city’s sewer plant, Sgt. Chris Hulsey said.

Authorities reopened Ga. 13 between Phil Niekro Boulevard in Flowery Branch and Wade Orr Road near Buford at midnight. The road had been closed at 5:30 a.m. Sunday.

DOT said the only damage appeared to be a small section of striping along the edge of pavement.

Mud and debris removal was completed by 9 p.m. and DOT engineers began inspecting the roadway damage. The only damage found was a short section of striping missing on the outer shoulder of the roadway.

“Conditions improved rapidly tonight on (Ga.) 13. Unexpectedly, waters receded almost as quickly as they flooded. Georgia DOT engineers completed their inspection of the roadway and the pavement integrity was not compromised. The missing striping was the only damage created by the flooding. We reopened (Ga.) 13 to traffic at midnight,,” said Bayne Smith, Georgia DOT District Engineer for Northeast Georgia.

Flowery Branch Mayor Mike Miller said it appeared problems stemmed from culverts under Norfolk Southern tracks running through town that wouldn’t let water from Flowery Branch Creek get into Lake Lanier.

“On this side of the railroad tracks, the water level is about 10 feet higher than the lake side,” Miller said. “All this water can’t get to the lake, so it’s backed all this up.”

Officials reported in April that three culverts underneath the track west of the city are in need of repair or replacement after being found to have washed out, or failing to control ground or storm water.

They are adjacent to the Lake Lanier cove within Hideaway Bay Marina in Flowery Branch.

Norfolk Southern had implemented an order that required trains to decrease their speeds to about 10 miles per hour along the stretch undergoing reconstruction.

Susan Terpay, Norfolk Southern’s Georgia spokeswoman, couldn’t be reached for comment.

By noon, much of the water had receded and Wayne Drive residents still treaded water in their vehicles, but they could leave the neighborhood.

The Georgia Department of Transportation also had an explanation for the flooding on Ga. 13: “Drainage pipes meant to redirect rainwater away from the roadway are underwater.”

“There is no place for water to drain away,” according to a news release.

Storms also caused road closures in other areas, including Trudy Drive off Lights Ferry Road, Stephens Road at Pippsissewa Drive and McEver Road just south of H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway.

Also affected were Flowery Road and Spring Street.

A sinkhole had forced Lights Ferry at Cove Creek Drive to close, said Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

All the damage prompted Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dick Mecum to issue a declaration of local emergency.

He did so following notice from the Hall County Emergency Management Agency that emergency circumstances exist, “requiring extraordinary and immediate corrective actions for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Hall County.”

According to a news release from the county government, the declaration activates the Hall County Emergency Operations Plan and gives the chairman “emergency authority to use county employees to assist within jurisdictions where an emergency exists and gives them the authority to close affected roadways.”

“Authorities strongly encourage residents in the affected area to use caution if outdoors,” the release states. “We also encourage citizens to have a heightened awareness of road closures, which will likely result in longer commute times Monday morning.”

South Hall Commissioner Craig Lutz also was out surveying damage.

“Some of this obviously is just an act of God,” he said. “We’re going to have to wait until things settle down, like with Atlanta (Highway).

“It doesn’t look like ... there’s much that can be done until it stops raining and the water recedes.”

Miller also issued a similar declaration for Flowery Branch “based on his determination that the flash flooding ... threatened the loss of life and property as well as created a major disruption of routine affairs, business and government operations within the city,” City Manager Bill Andrew said in an emailed statement.

The storm also caused Hall County schools to rethink bus routes this morning.

“In spite of our best efforts, there will be roads buses will be unable to travel,” Superintendent Will Schofield said. “Parents in these areas must transport their children to school.”

He added: “Closure lists may change before morning. We will keep families in affected areas updated with our email and phone messaging system. Additionally, we will post relevant information on our website and Twitter account.”

Schofield also said “principals will work with any family that is unable to get to school.”

In addition, a boil water advisory remains in effect until 9 p.m. today for Flowery Branch residents due to a water main rupture. The advisory was lifted for South Hall County residents outside of Flowery Branch south of Winder Highway about 8 p.m. Sunday. All customers in Flowery Branch had water service restored as of 9 p.m.

Earlier Sunday, downed trees led to some power outages for about 600 Jackson Electric Membership Corp. customers in South Hall and northern Gwinnett counties.

In Gainesville, lightning from the storm struck a tree next to a house in the 700 block of Perry Street, Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough said.

It started a fire at the front door, causing about $15,000 in damage.

No one was injured in the blaze, which started about 2 a.m., the chief said.

The heavy rains raised Lake Lanier’s elevation by 1 foot in the past 24 hours. The lake stands at 1,073.36 feet above sea level, or more than 2 feet above summer full pool, as of 10:15 Sunday night. It had slipped to 1,071.13 feet by Friday night.


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