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County recovering

Wednesday marked the first step in the county’s recovery process as Gov. Bob Riley declared a state of emergency for Covington and three other surrounding counties after heavy rains caused flooding and damages in the areas.

County Engineer Darren Capps said Wednesday morning, state EMA officials had just finished their initial survey of damage to more than 60 local roadways damaged by recent rains – the first step in obtain Federal EMA monies for repairs.

Currently, 63 roads are still closed throughout the county, Capps said.

“First off, anyone traveling on a dirt road — whether it’s on the list or not — should be extremely cautious,” Capps said. “We’re looking at widespread closings. (Wednesday) we met with state EMA officials who said they just left Brewton before making their way here before heading to Dale County.

“They said our next step in the process is to determine just how much damage occurred and get a preliminary cost estimate on repairs,” he said. “Officials will use that total, combined with totals from the other areas to determine if we qualify for federal funds.”

By Wednesday afternoon, state EMA officials had reported their findings, prompting Gov. Bob Riley to declare a state of emergency for Covington and neighboring Escambia, Crenshaw and Dale counties.

Now, Capps and his staff will once again begin a now familiar recovery process.

“This same thing happened back in 1998 with the March flood and then Hurricane Georges in September,” he said. “We had just started to work on fixing things from the first storm when the second hit.”

In late March, the county sustained an estimated $3.9 million in damages when heavy rains and straight line winds caused significant damages to the county roadways.

Little progress has been made on those repairs because of rains, Capps said.

“It’s been wet all summer long,” he said. “Before this, we’d gotten zero days on the grader in December because of the rain. We’re hoping things will dry out some so we can see where we stand and what we need to do.”

Capps said he hopes to hear from FEMA officials next week.

The county school system will resume classes today; however, students living on dirt roads are asked to instead meet the bus at the nearest paved road.

Deborah Bennett of the county water authority said crews worked during the night to repair the major water outages. Now, only minor isolated incidents of outages remain.

However, the rain is slated to begin again today as forecasts from the National Weather Service show a 50 percent chance of rain today and a 70 percent chance of rain on Friday. The county remains under a flood warning for the following rivers: Conecuh River at Brewton, which affects Covington County, and the Yellow River at Milligan.