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Alberto remains state's costliest disaster

By Greg Gelpi

Streets turned to rivers, and rivers turned to lakes.

Floodwaters engulfed a house in southern Clayton County, and firefighters left the fire engine behind and hopped in a boat for the rescue.

"The water was too swift for them to make it to the road," Clayton County fire Chief Jeff Hood said. "I never would have dreamed that I would have come down West Fayetteville Road in a boat. Anyone who would have told me that a month before I would have said they were crazy."

Hood, who was a sergeant with Engine 4, recalled flooding that blanketed the state 10 years ago. Tropical system Alberto settled over Central and Southwestern Georgia pouring 27 inches on the area during a six-day stretch.

Propane tanks floated down streets and the fire department lent oxygen tanks to people who lost power and required oxygen, Hood said.

"It was obviously conditions I had never seen before in the area," he said.

Rainwater washed out bridges, covered roads and flooded homes in what Henry County police Capt. Mac Nale called the worst flooding he had ever seen.

Nale recalled a family swept away in a children's plastic swimming pool on Ga. Highway 138.

"There were some roads closed for weeks," he said.

People were fishing in the streets as Lake Jodeco and other small lakes overflowed their banks, Nale said.

Federal relief for storm victims totaled more than $634 million for the state, including more than $4.8 million for Henry County and nearly $2.4 million for Clayton County.

"We were fortunate in many ways," said John Dalton, the deputy director of the Clayton County Emergency Management Agency.

Across the state, the storm claimed 31 lives, although none in Clayton or Henry counties. Thousands of Georgians lost their homes, and mobile homes were brought in to setup temporary housing.

Nobody escaped from the tropical storm, Dalton said.

A dam gave way behind the Jonesboro cemetery, water swelled 30 to 35 feet from a creek to cover Northbridge Road and River's Edge Golf Course was under water from the deluge, he said.

"Instead of looking out on a golf course, (residents living on the golf course) looked out on the water," Dalton said.

Since then, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cleared Flint River of debris to keep water levels down, he said.

Alberto was the most devastating and costly disaster ever in the state, as 55 counties were declared federal disaster areas and the Federal Emergency Management Agency paid more than $446 million in aid. The Small Business Administration gave almost $188 million in relief as well.