More rain worries already flooded, soggy Southeast

Published 11:58 pm Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More heavy rain was forecast Tuesday for the already soggy Southeast, worrying residents still recovering from a weekend soaking that flooded hundreds of homes, washed out roads and forced evacuations.

Southern Mississippians were still cleaning up from tornadoes and flooding as disaster officials warned them to brace for another round of potentially severe storms that could fatten swollen rivers. In southeast Alabama, volunteers and Houston County jail inmates filled more than 2,500 sandbags for people to place in front of their homes to keep out water.

“We’ve had more than 300 houses flooded countywide,” sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Carlisle said. “It’s everywhere, even in places where it’s never flooded before. Every low-lying area in the county is flooded.”

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Schools were closed in one Mississippi county and more than a dozen residents in Alabama were staying at a motel. The problems could worsen.

The National Weather Service called Tuesday for as much as three to five inches across south Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and Georgia. Those amounts are expected to increase with new storms spreading rain throughout the area later in the week.

Parts of the Southeast have seen rainfall between five and 11 inches in recent days, and some isolated areas had upward of 17 inches.

Water is going down in some areas, but the forecast has emergency officials on alert.

“We’re seeing estimates of 6 to 12 inches more by the end of the weekend,” Carlisle said.

At least 30 people were forced from their homes over the weekend in Houston County, Ala. Dothan Red Cross executive director Susan Holmes said 14 evacuees remained in city motels Tuesday.

In Mobile, Red Cross executive director Leisle Mims said her agency helped find temporary shelter for 29 families, or about 60 people, displaced by flooding in Mobile and Baldwin counties, but most had returned to their homes by Tuesday.

The weekend thunderstorms caused an estimated $1.25 million in flood damage in Houston County, one of 11 counties Gov. Bob Riley declared in a state of emergency.

In Geneva County, Emergency Management Agency Director Margaret Mixon said the reinforced levee protecting the city of Geneva from the rising Pea and Choctawhatchee rivers was holding. But Mixon said three retention ponds are near capacity.

“We’ve got tarps ready in case people need them,” said Baldwin County EMA Director Leigh Ann Ryals.

National Weather Service meteorologist Lynn Burse said storms will be widespread throughout Tuesday, followed by another front and a third series of storms over the weekend.

“It’s been an active period,” she said. “We’re just in a pattern where we don’t have any good, strong high pressure setting up, leaving the door open for these cold fronts to move through one after another.”

The severe weather has killed one person in Florida and injured 30 in Mississippi. In Florida, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office reported the death of an Alabama man whose pickup truck washed off a roadway and sank in floodwaters on Sunday.