TIFTON -- Farmers and rescue workers kept an eye on the sky Thursday as a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico threatened to dump more rain on the Tiftarea.

American Red Cross director Laurie Vitale said the local chapter was on alert for heavy rainfall and potential flooding in low-lying parts of surrounding counties. "In Tift County, we don't have a river, so to speak, such as the Flint," said Vitale. "But Berrien, Atkinson and Coffee counties do have low areas and are more prone to flash flooding. Tift and Turner counties don't really experience those problems as much."

The Coastal Plains ARC Chapter sent a damage assessment team to help with floods in Donalsonville last year and would play a key role in providing shelter to any victims of local flooding.

Tift County Extension Service Director Brian Tankersley said local rainfall has been "variable" so far, with some parts of the county receiving much more rain than others. Heavy rainfall or high winds could be damaging to local crops, but Tankersley said it would be premature to try to predict what might happen.

"We're about to get into some intense harvesting seasons with peanuts," said Tankersley. "A tremendous amount of rain could hinder the harvest or delay it some, and that would affect the yield and the quality. It just depends on what kind of rain we get and how long it takes to clear up."

Some farmers are already seeing defoliated cotton and some boll rot on the lower parts of cotton plants, Tankersley said. Vegetable crops face an increased challenge from insects when conditions are wet.

"If we had a six-inch rain in the next few days, it could be very damaging," said Tankersley. "But if we get an inch of rain and then have open weather, it wouldn't be too bad. Obviously, farmers are watching the weather situation, but they're waiting to see what's going to happen before they do much more."

The depression, predicted to become Tropical Storm Henri, was about 150 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Fla., at 8 p.m. Thursday. It was expected to hit Florida's Big Bend area by late Friday.

Local weather forecasts called for numerous showers and thundershowers today, slowing to scattered showers tonight.

To contact city editor Florence Rankin, call 382-4321, ext. 209.

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