River rising, flooding expected in Camden County

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KINGSLAND, Ga. — Residents in Georgia’s southeast corner stockpiled sandbags and took other precautions Friday as the swollen St. Marys River continued to rise in Camden County, while state officials toured the damage in a neighboring county where floodwaters swamped at least 15 homes and dozens of roads.

No evacuations were ordered in Camden County, where dozens of homes were at risk of flooding along a 10-mile stretch of the river that forms the Georgia-Florida border near the coast. Heavy rains from Tropical Storm Debby inundated the river, which flooded parts of neighboring Charlton County before cresting Thursday.

“I was out riding this morning and saw sandbags piled up next to houses ready to deploy if needed. People are moving things out of their houses and tying things down,” said Mark Crews, the emergency management director for Camden County. “I think for the most part people are taking the warnings seriously.”

Crews estimated 80 or more homes could take on water west of Kingsland, where the river widens significantly and poses less of a flooding threat to the east, where most county residents live.

Water was already seeping over the riverbanks in some areas Friday morning, Crews said. It’s unknown how deep the floodwaters could get. When the St. Marys River last flooded, in April 2009, about 40 homes were swamped with up to a foot of water, Crews said.

Meanwhile, officials from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency were touring flood damage Friday in neighboring Charlton County on the eastern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. Waters were starting to recede after the river crested Thursday at 12 feet above flood stage.

Al Crace, the county administrator, said Friday officials had confirmed 15 homes near the riverbanks had flooded, and said there could be more than 40 others that authorities hadn’t verified. Most homes had a foot or two of water in them, but at least one was submerged almost to its roofline. No injuries were reported.

Crace said flooding forced officials to shut off electricity to about 50 homes. However, a shelter that opened in the county remained empty and stranded residents refused to leave their flooded homes when authorities from the state Department of Natural Resources and other agencies showed up in boats.

“The sheriff’s department and the DNR have been to those areas twice and offered transportation,” Crace said. “Cellphones still work. If there’s anybody in distress, we’ll go help them out.”

Flooding closed 47 roads in Charlton County, though all but 11 were reopened Friday.

Kimberly Chauncey’s family evacuated their log home Tuesday as waters rose rapidly where Charlton County follows a bend in the river to form Georgia’s southernmost tip. She told the Florida Times-Union that by Thursday the floodwaters were near the ceiling of the house’s first floor. Chauncey said she was stunned the river could rise so high.

“Last week, my 2-year-old could walk across the river behind our house,” she said.


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