Published January 14, 2015
Surging floodwaters ripped apart a west Georgia trailer home, drowning a 2-year-old boy swept from his father's arms.
In Atlanta, stranded motorists scrambled to the tops of their car as waters rose on one of the city's busiest highways. To the north, crews worked furiously to shore up a levee holding a surging river back from an isolated town.
Storms that pounded the Southeast on Monday turned sleepy creeks into rivers, and rivers into raging floodwaters. Six people were killed across the region, including five in the Atlanta area. Aerial shots showed schools, football fields, even entire neighborhoods submerged by the deluge, sending some unlucky residents scurrying for higher ground.
"It's a mess all over," said Lisa Janak of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
At least two people were missing, including a Tennessee man who went swimming in an overflowing ditch on a $5 dare and a 15-year-old Georgia teen who never returned from a swim in the surging Chattooga River.
The storm came after days of rain pounded most of the region and saturated the soil. Some parts of Georgia have had more than 20 inches since Friday.
"Any rain that fell has no place to go," said Georgia climatologist David Stooksbury. "This rainfall on top of already saturated soils really made the situation worse."
Many parts of north Georgia have experienced "historic" amounts of rain well in excess of so-called 100-year predictions, which describe a storm with the likelihood of happening once every century, said Stooksbury. The downpours come just months after much of the region emerged from an epic drought that plagued the region since 2007.
As the storm front rumbled through west Georgia, it turned a normally docile creek into a surging headwater that tore apart 2-year-old Preston Slade Crawford's mobile home around 2 a.m. The boy's body wasn't found until hours later, but his parents had been rescued as another son, age 1, clung to his mother's arms in the county west of Atlanta.
"By the time we got into our vehicle, they were screaming at the back of our house," said Pat Crawford, the boy's grandmother, who watched as the family's mobile home was whisked away. "We could see them, but the current was so bad, we couldn't get to them."
Crawford said she was on higher ground, unable to help her family members. Craig Crawford clung to his 2-year-old son, but the boy was pulled away in a strong undercurrent.
To the northwest, crews in the tiny Georgia town of Trion worked to shore up a levee breached by the Chattooga River and in danger of failing. The town evacuated more than 1,500 residents, and Red Cross workers quickly set up an emergency shelter able to help hundreds nearby.
"It's a grave situation for us," said Lamar Canada, Chattooga County's emergency management director.
Most of the dead were motorists trying to navigate the treacherous roadways. Seydi Burciaga, a 39-year-old woman from Georgia's Gwinnett County, was found dead in her vehicle after it was swept off a road by flooding, said Gwinnett County Fire Capt. Thomas Rutledge.
But the surging waters weren't just dangerous for drivers. A 22-year-old Alabama man, James Dale Leigh, drowned when a pond's rain-soaked bank collapsed beneath him, said Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin.
Among the hardest-hit areas was Georgia's Douglas County, where as much as a foot of rain fell Monday. Flooding there was blamed for the deaths of a man and two women in three separate situations, said county spokesman Wes Tallon.
Emergency officials were often forced to improvise to rescue dozens of people stranded in their homes and cars.
"We're using everything we can get our hands on," Tallon said. "Everything from boats to Jet Skis to ropes to ladders."
Other southeastern states were hit less severely.
In Kentucky, rescue crews went on more than a dozen runs to help stranded people after 4 inches of rain fell on parts of Louisville Sunday, said Louisville fire department spokesman Sgt. Salvador Melendez.
Water rose as high as window-level on some houses in North Carolina's Polk County, forcing emergency officials to evacuate homes along a seven-mile stretch of road. Flooding in more than 20 counties in western North Carolina closed roads, delayed school and forced evacuations.
The forecast held little good news for Georgia: Another round of storms was expected to move in Tuesday from the west.
"Don't remind me," Carroll County Emergency Management Director Tim Padgett said of the forecast. "That's the worst news we could hear."