"Any rain that fell has no place to go," said Georgia climatologist David Stooksbury said Monday. "This rainfall on top of already saturated soils really made the situation worse."
Floodwaters ripped apart a west Georgia trailer home, drowning a 2-year-old boy swept from his father's arms. In Atlanta, stranded motorists scrambled to the tops of their car as waters rose on one of the city's busiest highways. To the north, crews worked to shore up a levee holding a surging river back from an isolated town.
Aerial shots showed schools, football fields, even entire neighborhoods submerged by the deluge, sending some unlucky residents scurrying for higher ground.
"It's a mess all over," said Lisa Janak of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
As the storm front rumbled through west Georgia, it turned a normally sleepy creek into a surging headwater that tore apart 2-year-old Preston Slade Crawford's mobile home around 2 a.m. The body of the drowned boy nicknamed "Scooter" wasn't found until hours later. His parents had been rescued from the raging waters as another son, Cooper, age 1, clung to his mother's arms in the county west of Atlanta.
Pat Crawford, the boy's grandmother, watched helplessly as the family's mobile home was whisked away.
"Y'all gotta help us! Y'all gotta save us!" Crawford remembers Bridgett Lawrence and Craig Crawford shouting above the roaring water. She said she was on higher ground, but couldn't get to them because the current was so bad.
At least two people were missing, including a Tennessee man who went swimming in an overflowing ditch on a $5 dare and a 15-year-old Georgia teen who never returned from a swim in the surging Chattooga River. About 12,000 Georgia Power customers were without power late Monday.
Some areas of the state have had 20 inches since Friday. In the northern section, areas have experienced "historic" amounts of rain well in excess of so-called 100-year predictions, which describe a storm with the likelihood of happening once every century, said Stooksbury. The downpours come just months after much of the region emerged from an epic two-year drought.
Crews in the tiny Georgia town of Trion worked to shore up a levee breached by the Chattooga River and in danger of failing. The town evacuated more than 1,500 residents, and Red Cross workers set up an emergency shelter.
Most of the dead were motorists trying to navigate the treacherous roadways.
The surging waters weren't just dangerous for drivers. A 22-year-old Alabama man, James Dale Leigh, drowned when a pond's rain-soaked bank collapsed beneath him, said Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin.
Emergency officials were often forced to improvise to rescue dozens of people stranded in their homes and cars.
"We're using everything we can get our hands on," Douglas County spokesman Wes Tallon said. "Everything from boats to Jet Skis to ropes to ladders."
Other southeastern states were hit less severely.
In Kentucky, rescue crews went on more than a dozen runs to help stranded people after 4 inches of rain fell on parts of Louisville on Sunday, said city fire department spokesman Sgt. Salvador Melendez.
Water rose as high as window-level on some houses in North Carolina's Polk County, forcing emergency officials to evacuate homes along a seven-mile stretch of road. Flooding in more than 20 counties in western North Carolina closed roads, delayed school and forced evacuations.
The forecast held little good news for Georgia: Another round of storms was expected to move in Tuesday from the west.
"Don't remind me," Carroll County Emergency Management Director Tim Padgett said of the forecast. "That's the worst news we could hear."