State Sen. John Wiles (R-Kennesaw), chairman of the 19-member Cobb Legislative Delegation, said he scheduled the tour so legislators would have a good idea how to join forces in obtaining state funding. The funding formula, which is subject to change, is 75 percent federal and 25 percent state and local, Wiles said.
"We're going to take care of the problem. It's not going to be easy, but we're going to be there until it's done," Wiles said.
County Manager David Hankerson, who served as a narrator during the bus tour, said preliminary estimates to replace the county's damaged infrastructure range from $10 million to $15 million.
That number does not include damages incurred by homeowners, which Hankerson said could reach "five or 10 times as much."
"It's going to be huge when you get public and individual assistance in property damage," he said.
Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Sam Olens said the federal government provides Cobb funding to buy about 10 flood-damaged houses per year, but it's "not likely" funding will cover all 700 homes in Austell, 400 in unincorporated Cobb and 100 in Powder Springs.
Some of those homeowners, Olens predicted, will turn over their keys to their mortgage company since they owe more on the homes than what they're now worth.
Hankerson said some of the recently homeless are staying at the Red Cross shelter in the Cobb Civic Center until mandatory checkout at 9 a.m. tomorrow, but many are with family and friends.
"If they got flood insurance, they may be put up in a hotel," Hankerson said. "A number of people have it, but you got a large number that doesn't have it."
Homeowners who live within a flood plain must have flood insurance. Those who live outside a flood plain may buy flood insurance but don't have to, Olens said.
"We are finding many residents who should have purchased flood insurance," he said.
Hankerson said teams made up of a building inspector, electrical inspector and a federal or state emergency management agency official are doing walkthroughs to determine whether the 1,200 damaged homes are habitable.
If the cost to repair the home is more than 50 percent of the value, the homeowner has to rebuild, as mandated by FEMA, "and even if you don't have to rebuild, you have to meet all current codes on flood plains, ordinances and elevations," Hankerson said.
Hankerson said the county would probably have most of the debris, much of which is piled curbside outside the homes, cleaned up within the next couple weeks.
Some of the homes may take a year to be assessed, however, he said. That's because some of the properties on Hopkins Road and other areas will be foreclosed on and "sometimes, those properties will sit there, and some of it may be tied up in legal or state or other things."
"But we assess all the structures," he said. "We'll assess everything within the next probably 60 to 90 days."
Hankerson said a frustration is FEMA's inflexibility. For instance, FEMA does not allow the county to pick up debris unless it is curbside on government right of way.
"I can't put county staff 10 feet on the private property and pick up trash. The homeowners dragged it outside the garage door and got it out of the house, and we can't go there to get it. And if there is a foreclosed house we can't go there to get it. I guess if I'm frustrated, it's some of these rules that there's no exceptions to," he said.
Olens said it's been many years since southwest Cobb's flood plain maps were last updated, and he predicts there will be numerous changes in the near future.
"The sooner the analysis occurs, the better for our residents," he said.
If a home is within the boundaries of a 100-year flood plain it means there is a 1 percent chance of flooding occurring in any given year, Hankerson said.
"People say, 'well, you have it once in 100 years.' That's not true. It averages out that way, but you could have two or three 100-year storms in the same year," he said.
Preliminary reports say that flood levels exceeded the 500-year flood plain, Hankerson said, which includes areas that have a 0.2 percent annual chance of flooding.
"We've never had that before, not to my knowledge. It exceeded anything we've ever seen," he said.
Olens said it's much easier to talk about changing the boundaries of a 100-year floodplain.
"The answers are far grayer when dealing with an epic, i.e. 500-year flood. GEMA assumes they will have much more information in the next two to four weeks," he said.
One of the stops the tour bus made was at Austell's Legion Park, located just down the street from Clarkdale Elementary, a school that was submerged in floodwaters.
"I don't know where the kids are playing midget football, because this is it," said state Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Powder Springs), as he surveyed the muddy mess that is Legion Park.
"My stomach's turning right now. It hurts," Thompson said. "We're going to do everything we can with state agencies to see if we can do our part and our fair share in repairing this community. I think the county has come to the city's aid as much as they can. We've been very impressed with the cooperation that they've lent, and FEMA seems to be on the ground and running this time, which we all of course questioned after Katrina. We've been pleased if you can be pleased about anything ... You know, it's just like anything else. You can feel sympathy, but you don't feel empathy until it hits your home."
Others on Tuesday's bus tour were state Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), and state Reps. Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna), Pat Dooley (D-Marietta), Terry Johnson (D-Marietta), Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell), Sheila Jones (D-South Cobb), Don Wix (D-Mableton); Cobb commissioners Bob Ott, Helen Goreham and Woody Thompson; Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews and Powder Springs Mayor Pat Vaughn.