A Flood To Rival ShermanMaria Mallory
Bad enough that 100 acres of Rodney Harrell's peanuts and cotton are drowning in up to six feet of rust-colored water. Now, in the aftermath of Georgia's massive flooding, Harrell is battling a deluge of crop-killing insects and weeds as he tries to salvage his remaining 800 acres. As the rain continues to fall, the Leesburg farmer's forecast doesn't look good. "I'll be satisfied if I can pay my bills," he laments.
With 21% of their crop waterlogged, Harrell and his peanut-growing brethren top the list of agricultural casualties in the state's worst flood ever. Cotton, soybeans, and other crops planted across 43 counties also have succumbed to the muddy waters; the peach harvest alone could lose $15 million in value. The damage won't nearly match the destruction wrought last year when the Mississippi overflowed. But losses in crops, buildings, and equipment top $108 million so far. President Clinton, touring the area July 13 after announcing a $60 million federal aid package, saw a swollen Flint River plowing a watery path through a string of manufacturing towns. "The impact is almost immeasurable," says Georgia Senator Sam Nunn.
FIRE NEXT TIME. It also has been tragically unpredictable. Southern Frozen Foods, a division of Curtice Burns Foods, was fortunate to occupy dry ground when the waters swept through Montezuma. But when its plant caught fire last week, the community's fatigued water system couldn't deliver sufficient pressure to activate company sprinklers. The fire wreaked more than $2 million of damage. Down-river in Newton, the owners of Pineland Plantation, a 300-acre catfish farm, watched in horror as breeding ponds overflowed and their stock just swam away. "Fish don't have a tendency to stay in a pond when it's flooded," reflected Ed M. McGill, manager of Westbrook's Farm-Raised Catfish Co., a Pineland customer.
At least the fish were in their element. Thousands of cows, chickens, and other livestock have drowned, and farmers now face tight feed supplies. Many feed mills, which depend on water to process grain, have been knocked out. Those that are operating can't make deliveries because of closed bridges and flooded roads. In a bizarre gauge of the flood's cruelty, some farmers report hundreds of starving chickens that have pecked each other to death: They hadn't been fed for days.
There are qome bright notes. In the 30 hours before the waters overtook his Albany plant, Jimmy Lewis packed three 45-foot tractor trailers with inventory, computers, phone equipment--everything he could move--and trucked it all five miles across town, saving his agriculture-equipment maker, Cross Equipment Co.
Other companies will clean up in the flood's wake. At Adams Exterminating Co., calls are double their preflood levels, as pests searching out higher ground invade dry homes and businesses. "We've been working from dawn
to dark," says Adams' new owner, Jeff "Bodine" Sinyard, who returned from Atlanta to fight the floods. For most people in the water's way, the hard work will go on long after the rivers