Originally created 02/08/98

Flooded river forcing evacuations

DUBLIN, Ga. -- Floodwaters reached door-knob level on some houses Saturday as the rain-swollen Oconee River continued to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years.

"We've moved up to the second floor because the first floor is flooded. There's about five feet of water down there," said homeowner James Maddox, 53.

The river had been expected to crest early Saturday at 30 feet -- about nine feet above flood stage -- but rose to 30.42 feet and continued surging as residents headed for higher ground. It's the highest the river has been since 1936, when it crested at 33 feet.

"It is still rising, but it has slowed down," said Lynn Edge of the Laurens Emergency Management Agency. "It's just kind of creeping up now."

Some Dublin residents began fleeing their homes as the rising waters reached windows and doorknobs on at least 12 houses and doorsteps of another 30 or so dwellings that line the river bank, said Ms. Edge.

"All have some type of damage," Ms. Edge said. "It will be quite a while before we can get in there and see because the water is going to have to crest and go back down before we can get in there."

On the other side of the river at the Riverview Park Golf Course, the river had swallowed 6-foot-high pins on the 10th and 11th holes, and was heading for the 12th.

"I've been here for 15 years, and it's the highest I've ever seen," said Daryl Edge, whose restaurant Jack's Place was flooded.

Residents maneuvered through the area in boats past several cars nearly submerged in water as Georgia Power crews began shutting off electricity. One family was evacuated to a hotel Friday night.

Evacuation was voluntary, but an emergency shelter was set up Saturday morning at First Baptist Church. Only two or three families had opted to stay there. Most went to stay with family, Ms. Edge said.

Still, some families decided to tough it out.

"It affects different homes at different levels, and I guess people just don't want to leave unless they have to," Ms. Edge said. "As long as the people aren't in danger, if they want to live there without power and everything they can."

The Oconee rose to 29 feet in January, soaking the same homes in this city of 16,312 that floodwaters had reached Saturday.

"We're going to stay here. We'll just be better prepared next time," Mr. Maddox said.


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