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Heavy rainfall floods Helen; Dragon Boat Challenge at Olympic Park postponed
Helen flooding
Tubers float down the Chattahoochee River in Helen on Wednesday, May 30, 2018, during heavy rain. - photo by David Barnes

HELEN — Cheryl Totherow sat under the Jerky Snack Shack roof Wednesday afternoon in Helen, trying to stay dry after recent flooding and yet another downpour.

“We’ve had enough of the rain. It’s put a damper on our business this year,” she said.

With waters climbing to pedestrians’ ankles Tuesday night, May 29, on the alpine village’s riverside streets, businesses were cleaning and preparing for what may come. The National Weather Service predicted showers and thunderstorms through Friday night.

Totherow said the business has been doing half of what they normally would because of the rain over the past several weekends.

Forecasters say heavy rain caused the Chattahoochee River to flood in Helen.

The National Weather Service said up to 7 inches of rain caused flooding to creeks and rivers in the city about 30 miles north of Gainesville. The weather service had issued a flash flood warning for White and Towns counties into Wednesday evening.

Several roads near the downtown area were shut down because of the rising water, which was about knee height.

No injuries or structural damage have been reported.

Helen Police said emergency officials are monitoring the water levels.

Cool River Tubing owner Terry Sims said his crew started cleaning and preparing around 8 a.m. Wednesday. A six-man hose brigade worked on cleaning the driveways and parts of Edelweiss Strasse Wednesday afternoon. Some of the water from Tuesday’s storms made it into Sims’ property.

“We’ll just have some sandbags ready and try to keep it out from under the building. We are hoping to get cleaned up and, if the river recedes, be ready to open maybe by the weekend, but it depends on the weather,”  Sims said.

Sims said his team had to move some 1,000 tubes and life jackets ahead of Tuesday’s downpour.

“If we had not have done that, we would have lost them,” he said.

Water that had crested the Chattahoochee River, which flows through downtown Helen, had receded into its banks by Wednesday afternoon, White County Public Safety Director David Murphy said.

However, “it’s still very dangerous to be around,” he said. “We’re asking people to stay off the creek banks, off the river bank and just stay safe by keeping their distance.”

Motorists who come across a flooded road “need to turn around and go the opposite direction,” Murphy said. “You don’t know what’s beneath the water.”

North of Helen, Ga. 75 between Robertstown and Unicoi Gap is closed “because there are some parts of the road that have become unstable from the rainfall,” he said.

Georgia Department of Transportation district spokeswoman Katie Strickland said Wednesday evening that crews would work “until dark to get the roadway back opened to traffic.”

“As we closed the road and detoured traffic, we've been able to move in equipment and place large rocks and dirt to replace the slope that was washed away,” said Cleveland area DOT manager Matt Needham in a news release.

Also closed was Sandy Flats Road around Gene Nix Road near Lumpkin County. A culvert washed out there, Murphy said.

“We have other roads that have some significant damage to them,” he said. “They may be down to one lane but are still passable.”

Downstream of Helen lies Lake Lanier, which also is rising.

Lake Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club coach Jim O’Dell said Wednesday night the Dragon Boat Challenge would be postponed from June 2 to June 16.

“We want to ensure we have a safe event above all else,” O’Dell wrote in an email. “This postponement will hopefully allow the lake to settle down with all the debris and level drop a foot or so.”

The Lake Lanier Olympic Park was calling for volunteers Wednesday afternoon as water threatened the boathouse and tower of the facility on Clarks Bridge Road north of Gainesville.

Lake Lanier Olympic Park venue manager Robyn Lynch pointed to an area that is “like an island of debris.”

“You can almost walk across it. It’s so much debris, and it’s tangled up in our race course,” she said.

Downstairs in the Olympic tower, Lynch and others stacked up chairs in fear of rising waters. Sandbags were also placed along the bay doors at the boathouse across the street.

Heavy rains also are taking a toll on Lake Lanier, which has risen above 1,073 feet above sea level. The normal summer full pool is 1,071 feet.

The walking path at West Bank Park and Nix Bridge and Thompson Creek boat ramps will be closed, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

News reporter Jeff Gill and the Associated Press contributed to this report.