A Georgia Department of Natural Services boat passes near the swamped Radium Springs Casino as rangers shuttle Georgia Power Co. workers from high ground to high ground on July 11, 1994. (Albany Herald file photo)
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an installment of a series of articles on the Flood of 1994 from reports published in The Albany Herald.
ALBANY — The Flint River crests, finally, at 7:15 a.m. And for the first time since the Flint severed East and West Albany, motorists could get from one side of the river to the other.
When FEMA opens its West Albany disaster assistance center, more than 1,000 people show up. That’s only a small percentage of the now estimated 22,800 residents who resided on the 23 square miles of Albany and Dougherty County that were now estimated to be under water.
“I never had to apply for anything like this before,” the Rev. Arthur Lee Wright said at the FEMA center on Highland Avenue. “Never even drawn a an unemployment check in my 54 years, but I might need one now.”
The drive from one side of Albany to the other takes a while, but at least it can be done now. Each way, however, a driver could expect to spend roughly two hours behind the wheel.
While some had already picked up on the roughly 100-mile route, which had opened up on Saturday the 9th, it wasn’t widely known until today. To get to West Albany, an East Albany resident had to drive to Sylvester on U.S. Highway 280, then north to Cordele on Georgia Highway 33 and U.S. 41, west to Leslie on U.S. 280, south to Leesburg on Georgia 195 and then into Albany on U.S. 19.
The heavy influx of traffic through the Leesburg intersection of U.S. 19 and Georgia 195 caused traffic snarls at peak times. Traffic had “increased today, but it’s not anything we can’t handle,” Lee County Sheriff Harold Breeden said. “I think the first day or two, as people become aware, will be the roughest.”
The military’s presence was being felt. Georgia Army and Air National Guards sent 2,800 uniformed personnel to Albany and points south, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany was operating right 25-member teams around the clock and the Army Corps of Engineers was supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with technical assistance, such as monitoring the levees.
The National Guard forces came with 16 aircraft, 278 wheeled vehicles and 64 engineering vehicles, including cranes.
While there was relief that the Flint was no longer rising, there was some sobering news on it subsiding. Officials estimated that it would be anywhere from a week to 10 days before the waters, now at 43 feet, would recede to the Albany flood stage of 20 feet. It was expected to maintain its crest level for at least two days.
It would be longer still before residents displaced by the flood would be able to return to life in their homes. An estimated 8,500 dwellings — homes and apartments — were flooded.
“We are nearing the end of phase one,” Albany City Manager Roy Lane observed. “The crest has arrived, but there is still millions and millions of gallons of water out there, and it will be weeks before it disappears.”
Down river, more than a third of Bainbridge’s 10,000 residents were evacuated, with the river expected to crest there at 45 feet on Thursday the 14th, two days after it would hit that mark at Newton. With a reported 28 deaths already in Georgia from the storm and flooding, law enforcement officials were determined Bainbridge would not add to the number.
Police and state troopers were patrolling Bainbridge’s evacuated streets and military police manned barricades near the river.
“No one passes” Bainbridge Assistant Fire Chief Dennis Mock remarked. “If you do, you’re liable to get a knot on your head. They’re not playing around.”
The big concern in the Port City was constructing a 10-foot earthen dam around a fertilizer plant that housed 9 million pounds of ammonia in a 200-foot-tall tank. The chemical reacts violently with water and is poisonous if inhaled. Water at the plant was projected to get 5 feet deep if estimates on the flood were correct.
Officials with Vigoro Industries, owner of the tank, believed the precautions were sufficient, but not to the point of certainty. “We can’t be 100 percent certain because nobody has encountered this before,” Vigoro spokesman David Pritchard said.
Animals were victims of the flood as well. At Chehaw Wild Animal Habitat, the vast majority of the park’s 150 or so animals survived, but a baby llama, two wallabies, a male bison and a number of goats were lost. The Albany Humane Society was filled with rescued cats and dogs and other animals. Despite a donation of 500 pounds of pet food, the animal shelter was running low on food and cleaning supplies.
Meanwhile, two of Albany major industries donated money to the local relief efforts of the Red Cross. Miller Brewing Co. and Procter & Gamble each pledged $100,000. That donation by P&G was on top of $145,000 worth of products it already had donated.