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Georgians Faced with Flood Toll

AUSTELL, Ga. - On a Tuesday finally filled with welcome sunshine, flood-ravaged Georgians returned home to survey the damage and begin wrestling with insurance issues. For some, homecoming was heartbreaking.

Chris Payne, 43, a construction company superintendent, was shocked when he saw the rooftop of his house on Powder Springs Road in Austell. "My house floated away! It's supposed to sit this way," he said, standing in a cul-de-sac about 100 yards away and gesturing with his hand. Flooding had turned his house about 180 degrees and moved it 50 feet, he said.

He said his family rebuilt after flooding destroyed their home on the same spot near Sweetwater Creek in 2005.

Not this time. "I'm a strong man," he said. "I could do it. But I can't put my family through this again."

The misery lingers.

Widespread flooding that killed at least nine people in Georgia and Alabama left hundreds of homes inundated, thousands without power and millions of commuters flummoxed. Closed roads and washed-out bridges created major traffic jams across the Atlanta region. Late Tuesday, sections of Interstates 20 and 285 remained closed as authorities waited for floodwaters to drain.

"We have to wait until the water recedes low enough that our bridge inspectors can safely get under the bridges to make sure they're structurally sound and safe for the public," said Mark McKinnon, Georgia Department of Transportation spokesman.

Since Monday morning, parts of at least five major Georgia highways - Interstates 20, 75, 285 and 575 and U.S. Highway 78 - have been closed, McKinnon said. "All of those are very heavily traveled highways," he said. "That's why it puts such a burden on the system when we have to close one of them."

The Flood of 2009, as it's become known here, was caused by unusually heavy rainfall across a swath of the Southeast. Atlanta, which averages just over 4 inches of rain for all of September, got 11.23 inches from Sept. 14 to Sept. 22, the National Weather Service said.

Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Dena Brummer estimated that more than 1,000 homes were flooded and more than 30,000 residents across the state were without power.

State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine toured flooded areas Tuesday and estimated damage at $250 million. "It's terrible," he said. "It just devastated families. Your home is your largest asset, and some families are in danger of being bankrupted."

At the Cureton Woods subdivision in Austell, Shawndra Williams, 36, was waiting for a boat ride to survey damage at her house. She said she had no flood insurance, and that was a big concern for her and other residents.

"None of us in this subdivision have flood insurance because they told us we were not in a flood plain," Williams said. "A lot of us are really worried about that now. Whose responsibility is that?"

There were a few bright spots as the waters receded.

East Lake Golf Club - 5 miles east of downtown Atlanta and home to this week's Tour Championship, the final event of the PGA Tour's $65 million FedExCup Playoffs - reopened for play a day after 3.75 inches of rain created creeks and standing water on the course. The tournament begins Thursday.

The flooding also wiped out memories of the prolonged drought that ended several months ago. Water levels in Lake Sidney Lanier, the northeast Georgia federal reservoir that supplies much of Atlanta's drinking water, rose more than 3 feet in three days, said Lisa Coghlan, spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The lake level is now at 1,067.67 feet above sea level, 8 feet above where it was two years ago at the depth of the drought, she said.

"It's been a wonderful event for Lake Lanier," Coghlan said. "Without a hurricane, it's very unusual to see this amount of rain so quickly in this location."

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