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Watershed management explains 'unconventional rain event' caused Atlanta flooding

The department said Downtown Atlanta experienced as much rainfall in 15 minutes as what would usually be seen in a three-hour span.

ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management will be out surveying areas that had significant flooding on Thursday.

The department said the Atlanta University Center and the Peoplestown communities may be struggling with damage from the flood waters rather than the storms, calling the rapid rain unprecedented.

Watershed management officials explained the stormwater system ultimately couldn't handle a "substantial amount of rainfall in a very brief period" that fell in Downtown Atlanta.

The rainwater left cars stalled, prompted water rescues, and even rushed into a Clark Atlanta University dorm, according to video. Flooding near the campus has also displaced 24 students and has left a muddy mess in the area.

One resident told 11Alive's Molly Oak that the area has faced flooding issues multiple times. 

"It’s happened over and over," said Beverly Cato, who lives right on some of the streets that flooded. "And over and over, they come and they clean out the sewers and all of that. But the deal is, those are thoroughfares, we have about four different ones that feed down here and that water comes here and drowns everything around here."

While Cato said she's seen flooding in the area before, this time it flooded her car. 

"All the mud is on the seats. All the mud is on the cupholders. The water is still on the car," Cato said. "It’s dreadful. It’s really, really bad. I don’t know what I’m going to do for a car."

Cato added it's like they live in a valley. She said she can't afford to move and also doesn't have car insurance, so her car is a loss. 

"It's horrendous," she said. "'Can they build up the streets?' I don’t know. This is a poor neighborhood. This is a senior citizen building. 'What can they do?' I don’t know."

RELATED: WATCH: Video shows flooding at Clark Atlanta after storms moved through

Data from the department signals that people in Downtown Atlanta, the Atlanta University Center and the Peoplestown community, experienced as much rainfall in 15 minutes as what would usually be seen in a three-hour span. The city's system is designed to manage flows for around 70% of what would be considered normal storm events, according to watershed management.

"Yesterday's storm mirrored an event with a 5% chance of taking place," the department said.

Watershed officials added perspective, signaling how quickly the flood waters decreased. 

"This slow-moving storm cell took place over a three-hour period and dumped a significant amount of rainfall," the department emphasized in its statement.

Atlanta's watershed management office monitors weather patterns, a spokesperson said, and considers rainfall amounts to understand the impact on the city's stormwater system.

"We are implementing specific projects as solutions to reduce flooding and enhance protection against these extreme weather conditions, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change," the department explained.

Furthermore, watershed management crews take a proactive approach when inclement weather is near, removing debris and sediment from catch basins - especially in flood-prone areas, the department said. 

Atlanta's watershed management is reminding residents that a percentage of Municipal Options Sales Tax (MOST) revenues are allocated to address stormwater infrastructure across the city. 

"The Department is currently evaluating the feasibility and approach for a Stormwater Utility while considering affordability," the department said. "The Stormwater Utility will allow the City to address system capacity and localized flooding under normal rain events. However, this will not entirely eliminate flooding generated by similar extreme rain events."

For more information and support from the watershed management after the flooding, click here.

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