ATLANTA -- Gov. Zell Miller vowed yesterday that the state would "vigorously" assist rebuilding efforts in Georgia following last week's devastating floods.
"This is a body blow of major proportions, make no mistake about it," Miller told reporters in Atlanta. "But Georgia will rebound. We will do whatever is necessary to rebuild."
In a separate interview, Miller said that in addition to widespread destruction of farmland, private residences, and businesses, local and state government facilities suffered extensive damage.
The governor said that it was impossible at this point to estimate the dollar amount of the damage, indicating that on a county-by-county basis some figures may be released in the next few days.
"On the state side, there has been damage to roads, bridges, and some school facilities," Miller said. "But we just don't yet know the full extent and cost," he said, adding that at present there are no plans to call the legislature back into session to deal with the budgetary implications of the flood.
Late last week, President Clinton declared 31 counties in the central and southern part of the state as federal disaster areas, making them eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
State government sources, who declined to be identified, estimated that final damage to the property of individuals, and that of the state and local governments, could exceed $300 million. This compares with about $12 billion in damage from flooding last year in the Midwest and about $30 billion from Hurricane Andrew in southern Florida in 1992.
The flooding in Georgia, which began in earnest last Wednesday, is the result of heavy rain from Tropical Storm Alberto. Hardest hit were Macon along the Ocmulgee River and towns on or near the Flint River, including Albany and Americus. As of yesterday, floodwaters had begun to recede in some areas, though rains were still falling in many parts of the state. Most of the Atlanta metropolitan area was spared extensive damage.
In Macon, for example, the city is beginning to recover from virtual isolation last week and damage to roads and damage. However, a submerged waterworks supply system continues to leave about 150,000 residents of the surrounding Bibb County without water.
Sources close to the city estimated damage to the water system at about $5 million. However, the city has recently sold a bond issue for its water and sewer system, and has moneys available in bond proceeds that will help it deal with the immediate problem, the sources said.
At the rating agencies, officials said they were keeping close tabs on the developments in Georgia, but so far have taken no action on individual credits.
"At present, S&P is in the factfinding stage and is not contemplating any ratings changes," said Jane Eddy, a director in municipal ratings at Standard & Poor's Corp.
Said David Alter, an assistant vice president at Moody's Investors Service: "We don't have any immediate credit concerns and are taking a waitand-see attitude."
Alter said that Moody's has so far identified about 30 local government ratings for review as damages are assessed. He said that water and sewer authorities in affected areas would be "high on the list" of issuers scrutinized.
Alter said that the review would focus first on local government's ability to deal with the short-term cash flow problems posed by the need for emergency service and repair, overtime, and cleanup.
Over the longer term, the rating agencies said they will try to evaluate the economic fallout from the flood, including the impact on industry, assessed valuation, and sales and income tax collections.
Eddy and Alter noted that the state and local governments may even get a long-term stimulus from the flood as home owners, businesses, and local governments are reimbursed and begin the reconstruction effort.
Eddy said that Standard & Poor's would also be examining whether the state and local governments reevaluate their capital programs in the wake of the flood.
Miller said that by late yesterday, up to 3,000 Georgia National Guardsmen would be deployed. He said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was making 700,000 gallons of water available to residents without it.
According to Glenn Woodard, coordinating officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA has set up four disaster assistance centers. He said about 1,000 federal employees were processing claims and helping to deal with damage.
On the state level, Georgia's Emergency Management Agency has set up 14 damage assessment teams, said Gary W. McConnell, its director. Experts from Dade County, Fla., who worked in the Hurricane Andrew relief effort that struck the state in 1992 were aiding in the effort.
According to Red Cross officials, at least 7,500 families around the state have been permanently displaced by the flood.