Flooded, soggy Southeast braces for more rain

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Water-logged Gulf Coast communities kept a wary eye on rising rivers and flooded roads Wednesday as forecasts called for another round of rain.

The West Pearl River, already more than four feet above flood stage at about 19 feet, had emergency officials in St. Tammany Parish, La., bracing for flooding, particularly in low-lying areas. The National Weather Service said the river that forms part of the Mississippi-Louisiana state line could crest at 19.5 feet Thursday morning, approaching a historic crest it reached in April 1983 that caused damaging flooding.

“We’re not expected significant house flooding. We’re expecting significant street flooding,” Parish spokeswoman Suzanne Steymiest said. “But it’s hard to predict.”

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Another round of storms was expected in the region starting late Wednesday. The National Weather Service said rain was forecast throughout the region over the next two days, and the heaviest amount was expected in the Florida Panhandle, where some areas could see two to five inches.

However, even light rainfall could add to the woes of already-drenched areas.

“All the rivers are still so swollen that it’s not going to take a lot of rain to bring them back up,” said Mobile-based weather service meteorologist Jeff Garmon.

In Florida, Lynn Orr was waiting to see what happens Thursday before continuing to rebuild a mile of trail at the shooting range he manages off the Shoal River in Okaloosa County. He had spent much of the week on a tractor restoring the trail that was washed out by previous storms, but his work was destroyed by rains on Tuesday night.

“It was about 20 hours of work the last couple of days and we are closed again today,” he said.

Keith Williams, who keeps track of river flooding with the NWS office in Mobile, said Wednesday there have been reports of moderate flooding in south Alabama, but nothing major. Scattered thunderstorms moved across northern Florida Wednesday, causing some flooding but largely sparing major roads and buildings.

At least 10 school districts in south Georgia closed Wednesday because of concerns about flooded roadways, and some schools in south Alabama opened late.

Floodwaters in Mississippi swept as many as 20 alligators out of their viewing area at the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch in Orange Grove. But owner Allan Adams said the 130-acre farm is surrounded by swamps, the gators’ natural habitat, and they are not a threat to people.

Parts of the Southeast have seen nearly a foot of rainfall in recent days, and a few areas had upward of 17 inches. Scores of people were evacuated, but most have returned to their homes.

Parts of the River Oaks golf course in Geneva looked like a lake, but superintendent Vance Langham was hopeful the worst was behind them.

“We might be able to be back in business by the middle of next week,” he said as he waded through nearly knee-deep water.

But not all were gloomy over the flooding. Donnie Cooper, who lives in a mobile home behind the levee at Geneva, said it had been good for his worm business. As floodwaters receded, sediment left behind was rich in wigglers — he gets about $3 for 200.

“You could just scoop them up by the handful,” he said. “I bet there were 500 more dead on the road.”