Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
A few of the belongings Jim Skelton was able to salvage remain in the front yard of his Lithia Springs home. Waters was lapping the gutters on the left, upper side of the house during the flood's worst point.

Lithia Springs

Flood Of ‘Biblical Proportion’ Submerges Home

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 29, 2009

As Sweetwater Creek started to rise, Jim Skelton moved the valuable items from the ground floor upstairs. The player piano was put on top of 5-gallon buckets, the refrigerator too.

But when the flooding swept into his home, it wasn’t nearly enough.

“This time it was moving six to eight inches in 10 minutes,” he said.

Skelton waded through water up to his shoulders to get out for the last time.

The water reached more than 11 feet deep and left only the peak of the roof uncovered.

His two-story, contemporary home on Hasty Drive, Lithia Springs, has been reduced to bare studs. Where insulation hasn’t been torn out, it hangs from the ceiling to dry. The last to go is the tile in the bathroom and kitchen Skelton and his friend Forrest Shiver installed after Hurricane Dennis, when four feet of water got into the house.

Jim Skelton, foreground, stands inside his home with fellow St. John Vianney Church parishioner Forrest Shiver as he recounts the events of the September flood. Photo By Michael Alexander

The debris of a lived life is spread across his lawn. The 1910 player piano is broken in pieces. The two antique cars likely ruined beyond repair. The tool shed picked up and relocated by the power of the water.

“Stuff floated everywhere. Stuff from the living room was in the bathroom. Everything you pick up has water in it,” he said. Water spilled from a remote control he picked up to prove his point.

“In our little area, biblical proportion is appropriate” to describe the flooding, he said.

Dirty leaves in the trees reveal the water’s high mark. Sweetwater Creek, which is an estimated 200 yards away, crested at a little more than 30 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It is at flood stage at 17 feet. USGS crews measured the greatest flow ever recorded—28,000 cubic feet per second—on Sweetwater Creek near Austell.

Skelton, who is 67 years old, was laid off last winter as a pilot. He grew up in Alabama and retired from the Army after 20 years as a major. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus at his parish. Skelton has on hip wader boots over blue jeans.

He looks at his home of 34 years and faces an uncertain future. He is waiting to hear from his insurance company about repayment. He and others need to learn from Douglas County about rebuilding efforts.

The great room of Jim Skelton’s home serves as the base of operation for any remaining cleanup and repairs. Photo By Michael Alexander

Skelton considers himself lucky. Because he has flood insurance, he expects to get insurance money. While it won’t cover everything, it’ll be more than others receive, he said.

Every day is focused on the house. He said he doesn’t let himself get fatigued or depressed about the pace of the cleanup. He knows recovery will take a long time.

Asked how the community could help, Skelton said people should give money to those in need.

“I’ll be behind, no question about that, but I’m not homeless.”

Groups from Protestant churches helped him after the flooding. But he encouraged his fellow Knights at St. John Vianney Church to spend their energy and time helping people who are worse off. He depends on the parish, however, for stability in this crisis.

“It scares me to think about dealing with this without my church. Unimaginable. I am extremely fortunate. One of my friends is upset because I won’t stay there,” he said.