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Rain likely to boost Lanier
Corps says level may hit 1,068.5
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Forsyth County News
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So close, yet so far away -- that’s Lake Lanier’s full pool.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials are expecting the lake to peak at 1,068.5 feet above sea level over the weekend, pushed to that point because of rainy and frequently stormy weather that began last week.

The lake was at 1,067.75 feet Wednesday, having jumped 3 feet in two days. Full pool is 1,071 feet, an elevation that hasn’t been reached since September 2005.

"We’ve got a good bit of water still headed our way," said Chris Lovelady, the corps’ natural resource manager at Lanier.

Hard rain pummeled North Georgia on Monday, with flooding rampant in such places as Gwinnett and Stephens counties. Statewide, nine people have died since Sunday night.

The local area was spared most of the devastation, but incessant rains drenched the 1,040-square-mile Lake Lanier basin.

Lovelady, a longtime corps employee, couldn’t recall when Lanier’s elevation got such a bounce from rainfall.

"I remember big rain events, but nothing where we were looking at rain amounts of 20 inches at one time," he said.

Lisa Coghlan, corps spokeswoman for the Mobile District, based in Alabama, also didn’t have a ready answer to that question, saying, "I heard someone mention either 2005 or 2004."

With the heavy rains, the corps stopped generation at its Buford Dam powerhouse.

"We didn’t want to put any more water in the [Chattahoochee] river during the flood than there needed to be," Lovelady said. "We were releasing the minimum flow to keep the river at least at minimum level.

"What you see is water coming in from the tributaries that caused any flooding downstream. If we had generated, we would have added to the problem."

And there was plenty of flooding in the Atlanta area, with authorities and commuters having to deal with washed-out roads. Brown water filled homes and lawns.

About 12,000 Georgia Power customers were without power. Scattered outages also were reported in North Carolina.

More than 300 people were being helped at shelters across the Atlanta and North Georgia region, American Red Cross officials said.

Lovelady said if a wet winter plays out as predicted, the lake could be above full pool in "parts of the winter and throughout the spring, and then we’d start summer off with the lake really high."

"We can always modify that with releases," he said. "It just depends on how often the rain comes and we’re not going to be able to release when there’s flooding downstream."

For dock owners along Lanier, the water has provided an extra boost.

"The (increase of) 3 feet is quite obvious to see," said Et Gentin, who lives in western Hall County. "The only good thing out of the tragedy is that the lake got some water."

The area has had some troubles of its own. Rain caused several wrecks, flooded streets and downed power lines.

In Dawson County, authorities rescued a rafter on the Amicalola River early Monday. The man was trapped on a rock, where he had sought safety from rushing water that was 3.5 feet higher than normal.

Rescuers received the call about 7:45 p.m. Sunday. A decision was made around midnight to shelter the man on the rock until daybreak.

"We were able to provide him with sheets of plastic and blankets for shelter and comfort until daybreak when we had planned to extract him from the river," said Lanier Swafford, chief of emergency services.

But when lightning began about midnight, Swafford said, the man left the rock and authorities were able to rescue him without injury.

"He is very lucky to have survived, especially to have come out of the situation with no injuries," Swafford said.

State Department of Transportation crews, particularly busy in Gwinnett and other parts south, are checking for debris trapped in storm drainage systems throughout the area.

"That’s a really big job," said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the department.

Also, inspectors are checking area bridges.

Otherwise, Pope advised that motorists be careful as they travel, even as the bad weather has cleared.

"We still have the potential for trees to fall ... and we have the potential for standing water when rain resumes," she said.

Sunshine replaced clouds on Tuesday and sunny skies could remain today and Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. During the period, the chance for thunderstorms drops to 30 percent.

However, the chance for rain -- in the form of scattered thunderstorms -- increases Friday through Saturday night.