UPDATE: Muddy roads force closure of Laurens County schools

Telegraph staffFebruary 25, 2013 

Heavy rains have turned most of Laurens County’s dirt roads to “mush,” forcing the closure of the school system Tuesday.

With more rain expected Monday night and several days of February remaining, Laurens County has already streamed past a rainfall record from archives that go back a century.

“The Lord’s blessed us with rain. We just have too much of it at one time,” quipped Keith Hall, transportation director for the Laurens County school system.

Officials estimated that 80 percent of the county’s dirt roads would be difficult or impassable in a school bus, leading to the school closure. In some places, ponds are overflowing roads.

“The top 6-7-8 inches of the roads are just mush. We just couldn’t safely take the kids to school tomorrow on the dirt road,” Hall said Monday.

The Dublin city school system will remain open. Other counties across the midstate also will be closed Tuesday, including Telfair.

A Dublin rain gauge shows that 10.47 inches had fallen through Sunday, besting a 1979 record of 9.55 inches for the entire month, Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network and National Climactic Data Center records show. Another 0.66 inches had fallen by late Monday afternoon.

That kind of rainfall is putting stresses on communities across Middle Georgia with rising rivers. About 400 Georgia Power customers were without power at 5 p.m. Monday, and there were other sporadic outages when trees fell and knocked down wires. The Tri-County EMC reported a single outage that knocked out power to about a dozen homes for two hours.

With so much rain hitting Middle Georgia, much of the water quickly made its way downstream.

The Ocmulgee River receded below flood stage of 18 feet Monday afternoon in Macon, but then began to rise again with rain that is expected to keep it out of its banks until Saturday.

Minor flooding is also expected downstream near Hawkinsville later in the week. In Abbeville, the Ocmulgee River is expected to cause moderate flooding by Saturday that could cut off access to some homes. Minor flooding is also expected on the Oconee River near Oconee.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for northern and central parts of Georgia through Tuesday evening as another bout of heavy rain with up to 3.5 inches is expected south of a line from Columbus to Macon to Swainsboro.

From Feb. 1 through Sunday, Macon has already seen 10.81 inches of rain at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, which is 7.06 inches above the normal 3.75 inches of rain for the month. And in the last 30 days, Macon has had more than 12 inches of rain, far above the norm of 4.35 inches.

At 1 p.m. Monday, the Ocmulgee was at 18.2 feet at Macon and falling from an early Sunday crest of 20.57 feet.

But by mid-afternoon Monday, an additional 0.63 of an inch of rain had fallen, making the river start to rise again. Much heavier rain was expected overnight, and a flood warning remains in effect as the river is forecast to crest near 18.4 feet, dropping under the flood stage of 18 feet only by Friday morning.

The National Weather Service has also issued a flood warning for the Ocmulgee near Hawkinsville, Abbeville and Lumber City.

Minor flooding is expected in Bleckley, Pulaski, Dodge, Telfair, Wilcox, Montgomery and Wheeler counties.

About 3:45 p.m. Monday, the Ocmulgee was at 12.2 feet in Hawkinsville and was expected to rise to flood stage of 20 feet by late Wednesday morning and continue to rise to a crest of over 24 feet by Friday.

Some river roads could be impassible, as history shows Riverview Road floods at that level.

Dirt roads are becoming impassible in eastern and southeastern sections of Middle Georgia.

Much of the state remains under flood warnings. A warning for Bibb, Houston, Jones, Monroe and Twiggs counties is slated to remain through Friday.

A flood warning for Bleckley, Twiggs, Wilkinson, Jefferson and Washington counties through 3:15 p.m. Tuesday warns that dirt roads with standing water were becoming impassable and asphalt roads were also having problems with flooding.

An additional deluge of up to 2.5 inches through Tuesday morning will result in additional flooding of small creeks and streams, the warning stated.

The Oconee River is also rising near Oconee. It was 16.7 feet as of Monday afternoon and is expected to rise about a half-foot over flood stage of 17 feet by Tuesday morning.

The water level is expected to rise to the top of the Old Balls Ferry Road boat ramp, just upstream from the Ga. 57 bridge.

River forecasts are subject to change depending on how much rain will fall with the latest system.

People should not drive through any water, nor walk through moving water. At night, it’s difficult to see how hazardous flooded areas are.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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