One-time hurricane strikes southern Appalachians with deadly rain, wind; thousands lose power

Tuesday, September 14th 2004, 8:46 am
By: News On 6

SPRING CITY, Tenn. (AP) _ Heavy rain and wind from what was once Hurricane Ivan assaulted the southern Appalachian Mountains on Friday, washing away homes and killing at least 10 people in the region.

Hundreds of thousands of customers lost power across the region, already hit hard in Hurricane Frances' aftermath last week, and flood warnings stretched along the mountain chain from northern Georgia to Pennsylvania.

Businesses in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina were swamped, and in Atlanta, Peachtree Creek crested at nearly 6 feet above flood stage, a record.

In the eastern Tennessee town of Spring City, rushing water from Piney Creek cascaded through the business district, breaking out storefront windows, carrying away merchandise and leaving behind a muck of mud and debris.

Mayor Mary Sue Garrison said a Coke machine also went floating down the street. ``It was just really, really terrible,'' said Garrison, wearing a yellow rain slicker as she walked through the town.

Business owners were spending the morning shoveling the soggy mess out of their establishments.

``It's a complete disaster area,'' Officer B.J. Neal said. ``We've had homes completely destroyed. We've had homes washed in the lakes.''

Garrison said gauges in the town, home to about 2,000 people, showed 8 1/2 inches of rainfall since Thursday. No serious injuries were reported.

In Atlanta, surging creeks swept cars down roadways. As Peachtree Creek rose just north of downtown, the Chattahoochee River, which cuts across the metropolitan area, saw its second-highest level since the Buford Dam was built more than 40 years ago to prevent floods.

As much of 8 inches of rain fell in western North Carolina, where high water or downed trees closed more than 100 roads, including Interstate 40. Major flooding and 3.7 inches of rain were reported in Asheville. The city of 69,000 was also hard-hit last week by Frances' remnants, losing drinking water for days.

In Sapphire, N.C., about 40 miles southwest, Jim Lorenz lost power at his country store but moved his gas grill onto the front porch and gave away coffee and hot dogs.

``A lot of people who got hit real hard are just coming by, and I figured I could offer them some food and their morning coffee,'' he said.

At 11 a.m. EDT, the heart of the loosely defined storm was about 45 miles east of Knoxville, with 20 mph wind. It continued moving east-northeast at about 18 mph and was expected to follow that path for the next hours. Forecasters predicted 3 to 6 inches of rain along the Appalachians through Saturday morning, with heavier amounts in isolated areas.

Ivan, now a tropical depression, was blamed for three deaths in northern Georgia, including a 6-year-old girl who was swept away in flooding in Cleveland. She died despite a rescue attempt by her teenage sister, who herself had to be saved by a neighbor, a county emergency official said.

Six deaths were reported in North Carolina, including two when a house collapsed in Macon County, in the state's southwestern corner. Two others died in Leicester, outside Asheville, after they tried to drive through a flooded roadway before dawn and their truck was swept away by Sandy Mush Creek.

``This creek turned into a river,'' said Chris Brown, chief of the Leicester Volunteer Fire Department.

In Tennessee, a 25-year-old police officer crashed on a rain-slickened road late Thursday while returning from routine patrol in Harriman, about 35 miles west of Knoxville.

About 223,000 homes and businesses were without power in Georgia on Friday, including 165,000 in the Atlanta area. Power was also out to more than 219,000 customers in North Carolina and 28,000 in South Carolina. Tennessee emergency officials reported only scattered power outages affecting up to 2,000 customers.

In South Carolina, there were several reports of tornadoes in Oconee County, and about 50 people there had to be ferried out Friday after rising water washed over the only road to their homes. No serious injuries were reported.

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner declared a state of emergency as heavy bands of heavy rain lashed his state's mountainous southwestern tip, still waterlogged from previous rains.