Doug Judy anchors a rope line for Brenda Mosely, Linda Kidd and Teresa Brogdon on July 7, 1994, as they evacuate Raintree Apartments in south Lee County. Brogdon had returned to her apartment to rescue her hamster. (Albany Herald file photo)
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of articles based in accounts of the Flood of 1994 from stories published in The Albany Herald.
ALBANY — As the Flint River and area creeks continue to swell, more than 14,000 residents abandon their homes. The night of July 7, all bridges in Albany and Dougherty County that cross the Flint River are closed.
Albany literally is a city divided.
The only way that most know to get from one side of the river to the other is by air, such as using a helicopter. Residents of East Albany are separated from both of Albany major medical facilities — Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Palmyra Medical Center. A 100-mile one-way route that would take motorists through Sylvester, Cordele, Leslie and Leesburg would develop, but few would lean about if for several more days.
Meanwhile, the latest forecast for the Flint River crest was even more ominous. Forecasters projected that it would crest at an astounding 45 feet on Saturday (July 9). That forecast turned out to be 2 feet too high and two days too early.
Things were just as bad — or worse — in other areas. Downstream about 20 miles, the most of city of Newton is evacuated. The latest statewide death toll stands at 16, including 10 in Sumter County alone. The remnants of Alberto were still stalled in Georgia, adding more water to the equation. All the roads in south Lee County are closed.
The National Guard arrives and troops at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany begin filling sandbags. Sandbagging prevents Palmyra from losing power, allowing 191 patients and evacuees from local nursing homes to remain at the facility. Thirteen critical-patients are flown to other facilities via helicopters.
In Albany, officials said those staying in temporary lodgings could expect to be there at least until sometime the following week.
While some left town or moved in with family, many of the evacuees were checking in at Albany motels. “I think if a person really searched for a room, they could maybe find one, but they’re far and few between,” said George Bryan, who was general manager for the Holiday Inn Express at the time.
By noon on the 7th, the primary roads out of south Albany were jammed with traffic. The neighborhoods there along the Flint River were among the first in the city that were taking in water. Trucks loaded with belongings were lined up as the residents searched for refuge on higher ground.
“It’s frightening,” Hilda Hazel, who was helping her sister move furniture from the sister’s house on South Washington Street. “I’ve always read about people being evacuated at times like this, but I’ve never been evacuated. We just don’t know what’s gonna happen to us.”
Water was knee deep in the Albany Housing Authority’s downtown housing complex as the last resident of the apartments was moved out. Law enforcement continued going door to door in at-risk neighborhoods, warning residents to get out before the high waters hit. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was being enforced in evacuated neighborhoods.
Three large segments of the city are evacuated. They are:
— Southwest Albany between the Flint and Newton Road;
— Southwest Albany between the Flint and Radium Springs Road, including Albany State College;
— North-central Albany between the Liberty Expressway and the Lee County line.
“As far as I can tell,” Albany Assistant City Manager Janice Allen said, “people are cooperating with the evacuation efforts.
“The only problem is that some people are bringing too much of their belongings with them when they leave their homes and go to the shelter.”
In some portions of the city, the water was rising faster than projected, prompting rescue efforts. Some residents were rescued from house roofs and trees.
Two residents, Victor Miller and Tony Sellers, were out in a small fishing boat the night before, helping rescue people who had climbed to their roofs near the Muckalee Creek. The rescuers needed a rescue of their own after the boat wrecked on a partially submerged pine tree.
The two men held to a tree for hours before rescuers got to them.
“The water was very swift,” Miller said, “so one of the main problems was getting exhausted. We talked about letting go and just letting the current take us where it would. But we decided not to do that unless we absolutely had to.”