The Flint River rises toward the Albany Civic Center in downtown Albany on July 8, 1994. (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 — “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet …”
That verse from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Ballad of East and West” has had various interpretations, but in the case of Albany on July 8, 1994, the words reflected a harsh reality.
All regular passageways between East Albany and West Albany were shut down by the raging Flint River, which was continuing its inexorable rise to a height never before experienced. The four bridges that cross the river, along with the bridge on Philema Road, were closed to traffic. National Guard vehicles were all that were allowed to risk crossing any of the bridges.
The river reached its 500-year flood stage, and President Bill Clinton declared Dougherty County and surrounding areas federal disaster areas. Go. Zell Miller has already declared a state disaster for Dougherty and 42 other Georgia counties.
The dangers of traveling around the high water had a sober reminder. Two 4-year-old siblings, Kason and Shabazz Mallory, of Jersey City, N.J., were died in flood waters of the Flint when the car they were passengers in was swept into the river. They were the 28th and 29th deaths in Georgia attributed to Tropical Storm Alberto and its aftermath.
Some parts of north Albany that hadn’t been expected to flood did so because the city’s sewer system was overloaded. That also placed Palmyra Medical Center at risk, but workers and volunteers worked all night to sandbag and pump water so the electrical equipment in the hospital’s basement would not be damaged.
Downstream, water was rising in a ghost downtown in Newton as Georgia Power prepared to cut power to the town until Tuesday. And Bainbridge residents were nervously awaiting the walls of water to arrive as the Flint hit its 25-foot flood stage there. The scene was described as a “controlled panic.”
In Albany, residents on the east side of the river were cut off from much of what residents of the city had taken for granted. Neither of the community’s two hospitals were accessible from the east except by aircraft such as helicopters. Of Albany’s police force, only eight or nine officers were on the east side of the river.
“Almost everything is (across the river) and we can’t get to it,” East Albany resident Ellen Powell, one of 1,500 on the east side who had to evacuate their homes, told The Albany Herald at a rescue center set up at Dougherty High School. “There’s no place to go. I feel terrible.”
To make matters worse for Powell, her wheelchair-bound mother also was homeless because of the flood water, and was out of reach on the west side of the river.
Albany State College and the Radium Springs Casino were deluged with water, and the Broadway Street and Cromartie Beach Road areas were under water as well. Rose’s shopping center, a couple of miles from the river, became the East Albany rescue command center.
Lt. Eddie Williams of the Albany Police Department observed, “If the dam in Cordele don’t burst, we’ll be in good shape.”
Those words would prove ominous.
TOMORROW: July 9, 1994.