Death Toll Rises in Southeast Floods

Peachtree Park in Atlanta, Ga., under water.
Last Updated 7:30 p.m. EDT

Neighborhoods, schools and even roller coasters at Six Flags Over Georgia were awash in several feet of murky, brown water Tuesday, and officials warned worried residents to wait for the floodwaters to recede before checking out their damaged homes.

Torrential Southeast rains soaked the region for days, and at nine eight people have died since an onslaught of bad weather began late Sunday.

Authorities in Georgia said late Tuesday afternoon that they found the body of a woman apparently swept from her car just west of Atlanta.

Douglas County Coroner Randy Daniel says family members say the woman was on her way to work after being called in at 2:30 a.m. Monday. Daniel says the woman was discovered Tuesday.

Other storm victims include a 2-year-old boy swept from his father's arms when a creek ripped open the family's west Georgia mobile home as well as several other Georgia motorists. A Tennessee man is still missing after he jumped in floodwaters on a dare.
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue is asking President Barack Obama for an emergency federal disaster declaration to help homeowners struggling with flooded property after this week's epic deluge.

The governor said he hopes for a decision by the end of Tuesday and is expecting "some level of federal reimbursement" as the cash-strapped state grapples with the emergency. He said the state "will do everything in its power, both physically and fiscally" to help flood victims.

After two sewage treatment plants were overrun by surrounding rivers, streams and creeks, Atlanta officials said they had no choice but to open flood gates and release minimally-treated water, effluents and raw sewage into the Chattahoochee River.

Authorities say there is no danger to Atlanta fresh water supplies; however the much larger problem looming in coming days and weeks will be to cities like Columbus, Ga., and other Alabama and Florida towns that reside along the river banks.

The R.M. Clayton wastewater treatment plant is said to be the largest in the Southeast U.S., treating as much as 180 million gallons of waste daily.

It is the latest blow to the region that's been struggling with torrential rain and deadly floods, as storms raked the Southeast, dropping up to 20 inches of rain in just three days, turning docile creeks into surging rivers, leaving entire neighborhoods underwater, washing out hundreds of bridges, and trapping motorists in their cars. Floodwaters around Atlanta shut down at least three interstate highways during morning rush hour.

Seven deaths have been confirmed in Georgia, and one in Alabama. Most of the dead were motorists trying to navigate the treacherous roadways.

Hundreds of Georgia residents affected by the floods crammed into Red Cross shelters across the state. The relief agency reported 327 people registered at shelters statewide Tuesday. The bulk were at the Cobb County Civic Center, which was transformed into a shelter.

Seventy-two-year-old Shirley Jones joined others sitting on green cots in the converted shelter, chatting about the fate of their homes.

Jones lived in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. She moved to Powder Springs two months ago, and said the sight of rising water brought back bad memories.

But this time she says rescue efforts have gone more smoothly.

About 120 residents of a Tennessee retirement center were evacuated by boats and trucks and others were ferried from low-lying neighborhoods and motels in a Chattanooga suburb as two nearby creeks continued to rise.

The skies were clear and even sunny in parts of Georgia on Tuesday. Most of the rain eased overnight, but some residents in some areas woke up to new flooding.

In west Atlanta, resident Garrett Nail and several neighbors worked several hours to clear a tree that had blocked a road to their community.

"It was troubling at first. There was no power. We knew people had to get to work, school, doctor's appointments," said Nail. "We were left with two options. Help ourselves or wait on the government. We obviously decided to help ourselves."

(Left: Six Flags Over Georgia is under water. Park spokesman Kendell Kelton said the attraction is still planning to open Saturday, but workers will be checking water levels and tracking conditions before revving up again.)

State climatologist David Stooksbury said the ground was saturated and unable to absorb the large amounts of water.

"It just takes time for that water to work through the system," he said.

About 12,000 Georgia Power customers were without power. Scattered outages were also reported in North Carolina.

Lives Swept Away

The death toll in the Georgia and Alabama is now at least nine. In addition to the woman swept from her car, authorities on Tuesday found the body of a 15-year-old boy in the Chattooga River in northwest Georgia.

Other victims include 2-year-old Preston Crawford, who was swept away from his family when a creek ripped open their west Georgia mobile home around 2 a.m. Monday.

The body of the drowned boy nicknamed "Scooter" wasn't found until hours later. His parents had been rescued from the raging waters as another son, Cooper, age 1, clung to his mother's arms in Carroll County, west of Atlanta.

"This is just a freak accident," said Pat Crawford, grandmother of Preston. "We don't understand why it happened. I guess we never will."

Officials say two men and two women died in Douglas County in separate incidents.

Douglas County officials told CBS Affiliate WGCL that two adult females were found dead in separate incidents in the Banks Mill Road area. One was found in an automobile in Billy Creek, a tributary of the Dog River.

Douglas County authorities also found an adult male body downstream from a car swept into Bluff Creek. The man had no identification on him, reports WGCL.

Just outside Atlanta, families like the Patels woke up in crisis. Until help arrived, they were trapped: four feet of water outside their house - and six feet of feet of water inside. They waited out the night, "And when light came we called 9-1-1 and got out," Sanjay Patel told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

Across the street, Fred Doyle planted a small flag on his front lawn. If the stake, he said he'd know it was time to go. It nearly did.

Meteorologists described the relentless rains as a once-in-a-century, Strassmann reports. How much rain? The area west of Atlanta saw a foot and a half in three days - 14 inches on Saturday alone.

Aerial shots showed schools, parking lots and even entire neighborhoods submerged by the deluge, sending some unlucky residents scurrying for higher ground.

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 to shore up a levee holding a surging river back from an isolated town.

School has been cancelled for tens of thousand of children across metro Atlanta, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

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.

Historic Levels of Rainfall

Some areas of the state have had 20 inches since Friday. In the northern section, areas 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 two-year drought.

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 set up an emergency shelter.

Most of the dead were motorists trying to navigate the treacherous roadways.

Emergency workers in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville found a woman dead in her vehicle after it was swept off a road by flooding Monday, said Capt. Thomas Rutledge of the Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services. The woman was identified as Seydi Burciaga, 39, who was returning home from work.

"In my 22 years in the fire department here in Gwinnett we have not experienced flooding to this degree," Rutledge said.

West of Atlanta, Douglas County was hit by as much as a foot of rain. Flooding blocked more than 45 roads in the county and caused two deaths in separate accidents. A man's body was found after his car was swept into a creek, while a woman's body was found elsewhere after floodwaters washed out the road she was driving on, said county spokesman Wes Tallon. Neither was identified.

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."

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.

Authorities urged people who don't need to drive to stay home, a day after Gov. Sonny Purdue declared a state of emergency in 17 counties.

"It's going to be a long morning. We're asking people to be patient," DOT spokeswoman Crystal Paulk-Buchanan said.

"It's Heartbreaking"

"Devastation" was how Darrin Hughes described the rising waters that filled his Powder Springs, Ga., home. Having suffered through flooding four years ago, Hughes, a single father with four children, believes he's lost everything this time.

"Well, we've lost all of our furniture and all of that. We tried to put the pictures and so forth upstairs thinking that it would be fine up there," he told "Early Show" anchor Maggie Rodriguez, because we lost a lot of memories four year ago. So this time we thought we were saving them. However, when we left our home area last night, the water was in our second level."

"It's heartbreaking," Hughes said.

"It's at least a little better, I think; we kind of know how to handle it because of four years ago," his daughter, Kayla, told Rodriguez. "But it's still awful because it's worse this time. It's a lot worse."

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 on Sunday, said city 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."