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Story of the Year: Rising waters
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Compared to 2008, 2009 was wet — really wet. This year marked the end of the three-year-long, earth-scorching level IV drought much of the state was in as well as posted record-breaking rainfall amounts in Newton County.

As of Dec. 20, 53.73 inches of rain had fallen in Covington in 2009; this total is well above the city’s 30-year annual average of 49.1, and 55 percent higher than the 2007 and 2008 totals, which were around 34 inches.

By mid-September local rainfall and rainfall upstream had caused the Alcovy, South and especially the Yellow River to near the tops of their banks. On the morning of Sept. 18 the National Weather Service placed the Yellow River in Newton County under a minor flood warning. The flood stage of the river is 11.0 feet.

On Sept. 22 the Yellow River flood warning had been upgraded to severe with the stage at 21.5 feet and rising. The river eventually peaked around 21.7 feet.

A few residents along Brown Bridge Road near Newton High School self-evacuated as the river rushed into their backyards and the Riverside Estates Travel and Mobile Home Park was evacuated by mandate of the Covington Fire Department.

Throngs of gawkers crowded the Ga. Highway 81 bridge over the Yellow River next to the Porterdale Mill Lofts to catch a glimpse of nature’s fury.

Flash flooding continued for the remainder of the week and Newton was one of 17 counties declared a disaster area by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, therefore qualifying businesses, residents and local governments for federal assistance.

Portions of 14 county roads were closed due to the flooding and three remained closed because of extensive damaged caused by the surging waters. The northern part of Crowell Road from Harold Dobbs intersection to the Access Road remained closed until Nov. 4 since a portion of the road was washed away. A portion of Harold Dobbs was closed as well because of the extensive damage to Crowell, but has since reopened. Mt. Tabor, north of Almon Road where it crosses the Yellow River, remained closed until Nov. 20. The bridges on Brown Bridge and Rocky Plains roads were inspected and were not damaged to the point where they needed repair. They will be inspected again at a later date.

Trey Polk, director of Newton County’s Emergency Management Agency, initially estimated local damage at $3.5 million, but said the number was likely to change.

Although Newton County was hard hit, it fared better than surrounding counties in terms of the damage sustained to buildings and roads. While Newton County had dozens of roads closed, Douglas County had more than 170 roads close at the flooding’s peak.

No Newton County residents perished as a result of the flooding and Chairman Kathy Morgan said at a November meeting regarding the flooding that this fact was a testament to the abilities of Newton County’s public safety officials, many of whom worked 96 straight hours during the flooding.

Compiled from Covington News reports by Gabriel Khouli, Amber Pittman, Lee Sandow and Jennifer T. Long.