By John Schaffner
The major flood waters of Sept. 21 and 22 were gone almost a week from most of Buckhead, but it will be weeks before all the waterways are free of sewage and sediment, and tons of trash collected by the storms is cleaned up.
But long after that, the pain — mental and financial — will linger for those who lost their homes and personal belongings to the highly unusual and devastatingly swift torrents of water that swept through metro Atlanta and left its mark on the affluent northside community.
On the Chattahoochee River, officials found an amazing array of junk surfacing as the water level dropped to normal levels — a kayak hanging from a tree branch, lots of plastics, balls and construction debris.
A more unhealthy problem, however, was the discovery of an E. coli bacteria level 42 times greater than the highest safe level.
The same problems exist along Peachtree Creek in south Buckhead, where old tires and other debris can be found deposited throughout Atlanta Memorial Park off Northside Drive, the course the creek continues after leaving Peachtree Hills and the Bobby Jones Golf Course on its path to the Hooch.
State and federal officials say they’ve been closely monitoring water quality to protect the health of the public and animals that come in contact with the Chattahoochee and other waterways. The Tanyard Creek Combined Sewer Overflow facility in south Buckhead overflowed into Tanyard Creek, which courses through the Ardmore Park Collier Hills and North Collier Hills neighborhoods to intersect with Peachtree Creek at the golf course.
The water and trash aren’t the only hazards, said Dr. Patrice Harris, head of the Fulton County Health Department. She said the muck left behind and the toys, clothes, furniture and other items touched by floodwaters should be considered contaminated. “Folks should be careful. Wearing protective gear [before any cleanup effort] is key.”
The first of the heavy rains wreaked havoc on driving through Buckhead in the evening of Sept. 16, causing vehicles to detour off of Northside Drive between Peachtree Battle and Collier Road and again near Deering south of I-75.
But the real problems came with the torrential rains of Sept. 20 and 21.
Residents and businesses in Buckhead spent the Sept. 21 dodging heavy rains and dealing with flooding creeks and roads, downed trees, closed roads and loss of power.
The worst of the flooding and most damaging results came to Buckhead late in the day Sept. 21 and on Tuesday, Sept. 22, while the sun was shining.
The Chattahoochee River’s level near Vinings was at 25.88 feet just before noon Sept. 22 after cresting at 28.1 feet overnight. Flood stage is 14 feet, and anything above 20 feet is considered “major” flooding. The river slowly receded, falling below flood stage on Wednesday. The level overnight Monday was the second highest on record, exceeded only by a crest of 29 feet in 1919.
The river flooded many of the shops, homes, restaurants and the Lovett School campus in the area. Canoe restaurant on the banks of the river in Vinings, was half-submerged in the extended river waters and the river waters flooded into two buildings at Lovett School. People in expensive neighborhoods bordering the river off of Paces Ferry Road had to use canoes and boats to get from their partially submerged homes.
By 2 p.m. on Sept. 21, Peachtree Creek had already crested to major flood stage at 21.18 feet at Northside Drive and Woodward Way. Northside Drive had been closed to traffic as had the side streets in the area. Both Bobby Jones Golf Course and the part of Atlanta Memorial Park west of Northside Drive were virtually under water. So were some of the homes bordering the creek along Woodward Way and in Peachtree Hills, east of Peachtree Road.
Engineers testing the flow of Peachtree Creek on the bridge at Northside Drive and Woodward Way early Sept. 21 told a Buckhead Reporter photographer they did not know if that bridge could withstand the pressure from the rushing flood waters.
Early in the day Sept. 21, Nancy Creek at Rickenbacker Way (at the Blue Heron Nature Preserve) was just inches from being at major flood stage at 13 feet, according to a report from Gordon Certain, president of the North Buckhead Civic Association. By 2:15 p.m. the crest had fallen to about 8 feet, but it was still raining. The creek crested on Monday at 14.69 feet, 4.69 feet above flood stage.
The Chattahoochee River at Vinings had reached 18 feet by early morning on Sept. 21 and had been expected to rise much more as the day progressed to at least 20 feet, By the end of Tuesday, Sept. 22, the Weather Bureau was predicting that both Peachtree Creek and Nancy Creek in Buckhead would still be at or around major flood stage.
For those interested in what affect all the rain had on lakes Lanier and Allatoona, Lake Lanier rose 1.5 feet From Monday to Tuesday, and Lake Allatoona rose a stunning 8.33 feet, the Corps of Engineers reported. Lanier is now at 1067.52, 3.5 feet below full pool. It has risen 3.5 feet in the past week. Allatoona is now 10 feet above full pool, but still 10 feet below flood level.
According to a memo from Atlanta Assistant Fire Chief Chris Wessels on Sept. 23, about 480 homes and businesses suffered some level of damage in the flooding. The memo showed 195 single-family homes had minor damage, 92 had major damage and 59 were destroyed. Of the destroyed Buckhead homes, 23 were in Cross Creek, four were in Peachtree Battle and three were in Peachtree Hills.
The total damage was still not accounted for by Sept. 30. But the estimated dollar value for all metro Atlanta was placed at $500,000 and still might climb.