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Rain likely to boost Lanier to 1,068.5 feet, corps says
0923weather4
More water heads for Lake Lanier as the nearly overflowing Chattahoochee River flows past the bridge on Ga. 52 near Lula. - photo by Tom Reed

0923WEATHERaud

Chris Lovelady, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ natural resource manager at Lake Lanier, talks about the impact of steady and sometimes heavy rain during the past week.

So close, yet so far away — that’s Lake Lanier’s full pool.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials are expecting the lake to peak at 1,068.5 feet above sea level over the weekend, pushed to that level because of rainy and frequently stormy weather that began last week.

The lake was at 1,067.73 feet above sea level Tuesday evening, having jumped 3 feet in two days. Full pool is 1,071 feet, an elevation that hasn’t been reached since September 2005.

"We’ve got a good bit of water still headed our way," said Chris Lovelady, the corps’ natural resource manager at Lake Lanier.

Hard rain especially pummeled North Georgia on Monday, with flooding rampant in such places as Gwinnett and Stephens counties. Statewide, eight people have died since Sunday night.

Hall County was spared most of the devastation, but incessant rains drenched the 1,040-square-mile Lake Lanier basin.

Lovelady, a longtime corps employee, couldn’t recall when Lanier’s elevation got such a bounce from rainfall. "I remember big rain events, but nothing where we were looking at rain amounts of 20 inches at one time," he said.

Lisa Coghlan, corps spokeswoman for the Mobile District, based in Alabama, also didn’t have a ready answer to that question, saying, "I heard someone mention either 2005 or 2004."

With the heavy rains, the corps stopped generation at its Buford Dam powerhouse.

"We didn’t want to put any more water in the river during the flood than there needed to be," Lovelady said. "We were releasing the minimum flow to keep the river at least at minimum level.

"What you see is water coming in from the tributaries that caused any flooding downstream. If we had generated, we would have added to the problem."

And there was plenty of flooding in the Atlanta area, with authorities and commuters having to deal with washed-out roads. Brown water filled homes and lawns.

About 12,000 Georgia Power customers were without power. Scattered outages also were reported in North Carolina. Over 300 people were being helped at shelters across the Atlanta and North Georgia region, American Red Cross officials said.

Lovelady said if a wet winter plays out as predicted, the lake could be above full pool in "parts of the winter and throughout the spring, and then we’d start summer off with the lake really high."

"We can always modify that with releases. It just depends on how often the rain comes and we’re not going to be able to release when there’s flooding downstream," he said.

For dock owners along Lake Lanier, the water has provided an extra boost.

"The (increase of) 3 feet is quite obvious to see," West Hall resident Et Gentin said.

"The only good thing out of the tragedy is that the lake got some water."

The Hall County area had some troubles of its own on Monday.

Rain caused several wrecks, flooded streets and downed power lines. Heavy rain seeped into five Gainesville schools with roofs that have "significant leaking," Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said Monday.

One of Gainesville’s main traffic arteries, Green Street, was shut down for several hours while workers cleared a tree that had fallen across the road.

And rising waters washed out the embankment to the recently repaired Brown Street.

Work could begin this morning to fix the road, one of two entrances into the Morningside Heights area, said Kem Smith, assistant public works director.

"Our goal is to get it open by the weekend," Smith said. "That is a headache for the citizens who live over in that area."

The county had planned to close Cronic Drive near Capri Terrace for pipe installation Tuesday, but "work was focused elsewhere" because of the weather, said Nikki Young, spokeswoman for Hall County government.

In Dawson County, authorities rescued a rafter on the Amicalola River early Monday. The man was trapped on a rock, where he had sought safety from rushing water that was 3.5 feet higher than normal.

Rescuers received the call about 7:45 p.m. Sunday. A decision was made around midnight to shelter the man on the rock until daybreak.

"We were able to provide him with sheets of plastic and blankets for shelter and comfort until daybreak when we had planned to extract him from the river," said Lanier Swafford, chief of emergency services.

But when lightning began about midnight, Swafford said, the man left the rock and authorities were able to rescue him without injury.

"He is very lucky to have survived, especially to have come out of the situation with no injuries," Swafford said.

Georgia Department of Transportation crews, particularly busy in Gwinnett and other parts south, are checking for debris trapped in storm drainage systems throughout the area.

"That’s a really big job," said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the Gainesville-based district.

Also, inspectors are checking area bridges.

Otherwise, Pope advised that motorists be careful as they travel, even as the bad weather has cleared.

"We still have the potential for trees to fall ... and we have the potential for standing water when rain resumes," she said.

Sunshine replaced clouds on Tuesday and sunny skies could remain today and Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. During the period, the chance for thunderstorms drops to 30 percent.

However, the chance for rain — in the form of scattered thunderstorms — increases Friday through Saturday night.

The Associated Press and Times regional staff writer Michele Hester also contributed to this report.

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