ALBANY — On June 30, 1994, reconnaissance flights encountered a tropical storm system, which had developed a few weeks earlier off the west coast of Africa. The system was crossing over the Bahamas and Cuba. Entering this system, a well-defined circulation was detected, and it was designated as Tropical Depression One.
Most people following the news that evening are more interested in the reports on the first day of pre-trial hearings in the O.J. Simpson case. They are also not surprised when they learn Tonya Harding has been barred from competition for life by U.S. Figure Skating.
Those who did pay attention to the report on the approaching storm had mixed emotions. In southwest Georgia, a dry spring had farmers looking forward to the much-needed rain the storm might produce. However, those who were not dependent upon rain for their livelihood were more concerned about how the storm might impact their Fourth of July celebration plans.
With talk of the potential for heavy rain, Andy Cooper and I decided to take our children to Riverview Cemetery, where we walked to Viola Bend to see where the water level of the Flint struck the “new” bridge and speculated on how high the river might rise if we received heavy rains from the approaching storm. We based our conclusions on previous flooding when the river reached its crest.
Initially, Depression One wandered slowly along on a westward track into the Gulf of Mexico. However, a variety of contributing factors over the south-central Gulf of Mexico altered this path, pushing it in a more northerly route on July 1.
JULY 2, 1994: Reconnaissance aircraft detected that the depression had intensified into a Tropical Storm that was given the name Alberto. As the day progressed, the storm took a more northerly route as it strengthened. Landfall was predicted to be between Pensacola and Panama City Beach, Florida. Gov. Lawton Chiles declared a state of emergency, urging residents to monitor the weather and for tourists to go home.
Tommy Gregors, who was vacationing at PCB with his family, recalls hearing the warnings.
“You didn’t have to tell me twice,” Gregors said. “I filled up my truck, went to the condo, we packed up and headed north. We spent the night in Colquitt with friends and drove into Albany the next morning. When we got there, I took the kids to Uncle Jimmie’s Lane on the Kinchafoonee Creek to show them how high the last flood had risen. I told them we’d come back tomorrow to see how far it had risen in 24 hours.”
JULY 3: Alberto peaked out with 65 mph maximum sustained wind speeds as it made landfall in Destin, Florida. Not an earth-shattering storm by any measure. Many of the 3,000 Floridians who had been forced to evacuate by Childs were vocal about their inconvenience. Little did we know how misleading this first assessment would be for southwest Georgia.
JULY 4: Alberto’s first serious impact on our region came as rain continued to fall. For the first time in 30 years, the fireworks celebration was canceled in Albany, along with an entire day of events scheduled at Chehaw Wild Animal Park. During the day, 1.5 inches of rain fell in Albany. Gauges in Americus measured 3 inches. Cuthbert recorded 8.5 inches in a period between midnight and 9 a.m.
TV Meteorologist Gil Patrick said that while there was no danger of flooding along the Flint River, flooding could occur in the next few days at points along the Kinchafoonee Creek. He went on to explain that Albany was being spared because it was in between two heavy feeder bands.
JULY 5: Unfortunately, the feeder bands that went to the north were dumping heavy volumes of rain into the northern Flint River. Macon measured 9 inches of rainfall. Ten inches fell in Atlanta, and the same amount was predicted there the following day.
Teresa Beyah probably never knew the floods had even begun when her car hydroplaned and became airborne at a flooded intersection in Spalding County that evening.
JULY 6: A cold front caused Alberto to stall and remain stationary over southwest Georgia. The rain continued to fall. In Americus, a staggering 21 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Plains got more than 23 inches during the same period.
At 4:30 a.m., Betty Bruce still thought the flooding was north of her as the 61-year-old widow drove along U.S. Highway 19 to her cashier’s job. Suddenly, her car was washed off the road by a surge of water. She was rescued by three men who used a chain tied to themselves to pull her from the water. She was sucked under but pulled to safety.
Georgia Gov. Zell Miller declared 30 counties, including Sumter, with at least nine flood-related deaths, disaster areas. There were predictions that 100-year flood levels might be reached, and there could be limited flooding on the Muckalee and Lake Chehaw.
On top of the relentless rain, an unexpected wild card was playing out north of Albany as the retaining dams of more than 100 agricultural and recreational ponds were blowing out, dumping massive quantities of water into the already overflowing Muckalee, Kinchafoonee and Flint basins.
Flooding was nothing new to Riverine residents in the region. Most had developed plans based on decades of experience with localized flooding. The Newcomb family had lived on the Kinchafoonee and Muckalee basins in multiple residences for half a century when these floodwaters hit. “Chickasaw,” their fieldstone family home, sits on the northern side of Lake Chehaw and other members of the family live along the Kinchafoonee and Lake Chehaw.
Ned Newcomb recalls the family discussions as Alberto approached.
“In hindsight we were blindsided; common sense would tell you a catastrophe was coming,” he said. “But we didn’t have the resources we have today to track these things. Dad was always like, ‘Don’t worry about it. It won’t flood here.’ In the flood of 1966, a mere 3 inches of water crept into Chickasaw.
“When a flood threatened, we stuck a stick in the ground at the water’s edge to judge the rise. We then started taking interior doors off their hinges and set them on a pair of chairs, creating extra tables to stack things safely above the rising water.”
With that in mind, the family spent the day helping Ned’s brother Robin prepare his house on the Kinchafoonee at Warrior Springs for the potential onslaught. When they finished, they took Robin’s son Rob home to Chickasaw, where he would be safe for the night.
Around midnight, Ned received a call from a childhood friend, Ralph Jackson, whose parents lived north of Chickasaw on the Muckalee. Jackson told Ned, “Things are going crazy on the creek. Are your parents OK?”
“I was really confused; I had checked the water levels at Chickasaw a few hours earlier and nothing was happening,” Newcomb said. “I drove to Chickasaw and nothing had changed there. How could everything be as crazy as Ralph was describing? I drove up Lovers Lane to Ralph’s parent’s house, and everything there was indeed crazy. I’m like, ‘How is this happening? We don’t have flash floods in South Georgia!’
“When I drove back to Chickasaw, there was water where things had been dry. I walked out on the dock to check the boat and let some line out. When I stepped off the dock there was 2 feet of water where it had been dry. We definitely had a flash flood.”
He called his parents, Mimi and Bob, from the driveway and said, “Hey, y’all need to get the hell out of the house now.”
“I ran up to the house through the rising water and carried Rob to my car,” Newcomb said. “We each took a car and drove to Turtle Hill (a family home where the Kinchafoonee enters Lake Chehaw). As dad and I drove back to Chickasaw, he developed our plan of action. I would get the boat and move it toward the house, and he would get lumber to make more tables.”
They started building tables in the carport and stacking things on them as they had always done when a flood threatened.
“Between 12:30 a.m. and around 3:00 a.m., we stacked as much we could on the makeshift scaffolding. At that point, we realized we were working in waist-deep water,” Newcomb said. “I looked at dad and said, ‘I think we’ve lost the battle’. I realized he was busy reaching beneath the water’s surface to unplug lamps.
“At that point, it turned into trying to determine what we could salvage and take upstairs. We were exhausted and tied off a boat with a line running into an upstairs window. I called Mimi to see who was where and what was happening. I asked Bob if he wanted to tell her anything. He said, ‘Yeah, tell her happy anniversary. Her gift’s under water.’ It was now July 7, the day of their 52nd wedding anniversary.”
Sometime during this period, a contracted employee with a security service left a final entry in the logbook at Chehaw: “FLOOD!”
He disappeared into the dark without notifying anyone that the park was going under. Shortly before this, Jackie Briggs, who was house/pet sitting for the Kirklands at Chehaw, followed the advice of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and evacuated. Charlie Marshall and his wife didn’t know it, but they were alone at Chehaw as the waters continued to rise. Somewhere on the Kinchafoonee, Vic Miller was stuck in a tree with a young man who was convinced his mother would send a helicopter to save them. Unknown to Gregors, his parents were facing a challenge of their own. Meanwhile those who did not live at the water’s edge slept on.
As the Muckalee, Kinchafoonee and Flint raced simultaneously toward record flood levels, the merging waters created a flood like no other recorded in the region. Those living in the flood plain fell back on their years of experience, only to find like the Newcombs they were being engulfed by the rapidly rising water. What had always been a safety zone for them was now submerged, and the water continued to rise. Previous escape routes were now cut off and hundreds were soon fighting not to save possessions but to survive.
In the morning, Ned and Bob crawled out an upstairs window, walked across the roof of their house and got into their boat. At the same time, bewildered Chehaw employees were trying to get to the park.
Ben Kirkland, the forester and a manager at Chehaw, was on vacation in Colorado Springs when he turned on the TV to see the morning news. The lead story was a comparison of the local drought to the flooding in Albany.
“Karen and I had a moment of panic,” Kirkland said. “She wanted to know if our home at the park was flooded. I told her no. But all her fish were dead. (Karen had an exotic fish business.) She wanted to know how I knew this. I explained our house was on high ground, but the transformer that served the park was underwater. I started trying to contact anyone at the park but could not reach anyone.”
At the same time, Gregors was watching the local news and trying to reach his father by phone to see if his family was safe.
“Suddenly there was a news feed showing my father wrapped in a towel, walking across somebody’s yard with my stepmother beside him,” Gregors said. “I jumped in my truck and headed out to find them. When I got to North Hampton, you couldn’t get past the first turn.”
Soon all the roads in South Lee County would be shut down.
“When I located them, they shared a tale of terror from the night before,” Gregors said. “When my father heard a flood might be imminent, he took the motor home and filled up the gas tanks, parking it in the barn in case they lost power to the house. It was now under water. They had crawled into the attic of their house to escape the rising waters. They had to chop their way out of the attic and climb on the roof to avoid being trapped and have any hope of being rescued.”
The good news for the couple was that they were able to step from their roof into a rescue boat. The bad news, though, was that the small boat got swept sideways in the swift currents and capsized, dumping them and the few possessions they had gathered, along with their rescuers, into the swirling water. They clung to the overturned boat in the dark for hours until another boat found them, completing their final rescue. During the night, Lee County EMS would evacuate 600 residents from their Creekside homes.
JULY 7: As daylight broke, a scene of unimagined devastation was exposed. Anyone observing it knew things were only going to get worse. By the end of the day, President Clinton would declare that Dougherty, Sumter, Bibb and Clayton counties were national disaster areas. The list would grow, along with the death toll. At this point, 16 were known to be dead, with 10 of the deaths occurring in Americus.
Charlie Marshall woke up to a crisis at Chehaw. Fortunately, some staff lived within the confines the flood had imposed. Jan Slaughter and Bobby Myler showed up, along with Kathy Murray, and they attempted to take a small john boat to the flooded exhibits in the back of the park. They were deterred by the strong currents. A citizen in the area provided his bass boat, and they were able to cut some of the fencing allowing hoof stock to escape to the high ground at the center of the park. Myler recalls navigating by the roof tops of the flooded exhibits. Some exhibits could not be reached, and some animals could not be released for their safety and that of the community.
Murray, one of Chehaw’s elephant keepers, found Tange and Zulu standing in water up to their bellies. She immediately entered the elephant barn to comfort them. For almost a week, the foursome would hold things at Chehaw together until others could reach the park and pitch in.
John Sperry, the former city engineer for Albany stated, “I’m flabbergasted.”
He went on to explain that the benchmark for the Flint in Albany is 150 feet above sea level. If predictions were correct, the river would be cresting 45 feet higher at 195 feet above sea level. Local officials scrambled to see what these levels looked like on their topographical maps and began evacuating those at greatest risk.
Volunteers turned out in large numbers at the Civic Center parking lot to fill and distribute sandbags. Sadly, the number of homes and buildings in the water’s path would prove to be staggering as Albany had grown by sprawling out over what was basically the wetlands and drainage basin for the Flint.
In many instances, the sandbags served as a placebo, allowing people to leave there homes behind with a somewhat false sense of security that they were protected from the relentlessly rising waters by a half-dozen sandbags placed across the threshold. At this point, more than 14,000 Albanians had been forced to leave their homes. The rain continued to fall.
In some instances, the bags did their intended job. One example is the effort to keep HCA Palmyra Medical Center functioning. On July 7, six patients in critical condition were airlifted from Palmyra by Black Hawk helicopters stationed at Ft. Benning. Hospital President Doug Parker explained that, if necessary, 10 of the helicopters were available for a complete evacuation of the remaining 185 patients.
Volunteers, members of the Georgia National Guard and the local Marine Base continuously stacked sandbags while pump trucks from the Albany Fire Department removed water from the hospital basement, where emergency generators were running. (Ironically, the generators were in the basement instead of on the roof because there they would be protected from storms and tornadoes.)
JULY 8: Volunteers on a military transport loaded with sandbags head for Palmyra. As the vehicle lumbered through flowing water surrounding the hospital, spotlights in the flower beds glowed eerily below the water’s surface. Rounding the building’s corner and approaching the rear service entrance, firetrucks spewed massive quantities of water from the basement as pyramidlike piles of sandbags continued to grow. Patients looked out their rooms’ windows at the aquatic scene unfolding below them.
The water encircling HCA would continue to rise until it flowed across North Slappey Drive, where it would then follow its natural route along an old drainage linking the swamp on Whispering Pines with the ponds on Third and Dawson Road. From there it would flow south toward the Kiokee Creek and the Flint River above Newton.
FEMA teams began evaluating the damage in the counties immediately south of Atlanta and would begin working their way south as the waters receded. As residents of the Macon area began to clean up, another two deaths were discovered. The water system was contaminated, leaving 150,000 residents in Bibb County without drinkable water.
Residents in Newton were battening down the hatches as the inevitable onslaught approached. Researchers at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center began putting their hydrology models to work. The data would allow them to commit the limited resources in the rural area with a focus on what could be saved and abandoning efforts on the unsavable.
JULY 9: The statewide death toll had risen to 22 as more bodies were discovered along the flood’s path. In Dougherty County, a 2-year-old and 4-year-old were added to the body count when the vehicle they were riding in bypassed a barricade and was swamped in the rising waters. 40,000 Georgians had been displaced from their homes, and thousands more were expected to be forced to evacuate in the southern part of the state. At least 1,600 roads, 600 bridges and 100 dams were reported to have significant damage. Most of the power in Newton had been shut down by 1 a.m. to reduce damage to the system and injury to citizens.
In Albany, more than 400 coffins in the two city cemeteries along the river floated above the ground, drifting on the water’s surface. Twenty Marines and Air Force servicemen worked with the city’s Recreation and Parks Department crew to secure the coffins.
“We’re trying to stabilize the caskets and retrieve any remains that are exposed,” Joel Abernathy, a city Recreation and Parks employee, explained. Another crew member described coffins shooting skyward as they broke free from the earth, breaching the flood water by six feet before splashing back down.
As macabre as this scene was, most Albanians and those living farther south on the Flint were focused on the Lake Blackshear dam as it approached the breaking point. Sperry offered some comfort when he reported, “The water is about as high on the downstream side of the dam as it is on the upstream side. There will be no wall of water crashing down on Albany.”
At worst, the additional water flowing around the dam would mean water levels here would fall slower than if the dam had held.
The Flint River is one of the least obstructed rivers in the country, with only two dams blocking its flow. Neither the dam on Lake Blackshear in Cordele nor the Georgia Power Dam in Albany was designed for flood control. In 1973, a proposed federal project to build more dams along the Flint was stopped by then Gov. Jimmy Carter citing environmental concerns. The Corps of Engineers determined that these dams would have had no significant impact on this historical flood.
Marcus Waters, resource manager for the Crisp County Power Commission, agreed with the Corps’ assessment.
“We had all 14 gates open, and the water was still rising 4 inches an hour on July 7 and July 8,” Waters said. He went on to explain that the flow was so overwhelming, if they could have totally emptied Lake Blackshear, it would have refilled every six hours. “We had an estimated 1.5 million gallons of the Flint River entering Lake Blackshear every second during this flood.”
With Albany split in half by the expanding Flint, those in east Albany needing to get to west Albany had been stymied with bridge closures and flooded roads. As the flood waters north of Albany dropped, a hundred-mile loop going through Cordele was created. The route utilized U.S. Highway 82 to State Route 41 to U.S. Highway 280 to State Route 195 to U.S. 19 to solve the problem, although it created a two-hour ride.
JULY 10: It was “the best of times, the worst of times,” and residents of SOWEGA accepted the fact that this was not going to be a temporary or short-lived event. They rolled up their sleeves and started helping each other. Those who had not been affected cooked meals, filled sandbags and opened their homes to the displaced. Even those who had been affected reached out to help others. There was a sense of community pride that had not been felt in quite some time. Albany was a community united. Regardless of race, socioeconomic status or religion, everyone was in this thing together.
On the first Sunday following the disaster, churches across the region paid tribute to the dead and celebrated survival. In Americus, the Rev. Fer-Rell Malone told his congregation, “If you’ve got life, you still have another chance.” He went on to encourage his congregates, “If the spirit moves you, go hug somebody because that person had a great chance of not being here today.”
In Albany, the Rev. Jim Johnson of Norcross filled in for the vacationing priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Conceding he could not “match the tragedy with a few well-chosen words.”
“We can move beyond fear and find faith again,” Johnson said. “God is with us in our worst moments.”
FEMA began discussing bringing in mobile homes or tents to shelter the 5,000 flood refugees then residing in 15 area shelters. They also announced Disaster Application Centers were scheduled to open in Albany, Americus, Jonesboro and Macon. The claims and verification process would take 10 days to two weeks.
In Newton, some residents resented the presence of outsiders, including the State Patrol and Department of Natural Resources.
“We’ve had flooding here since 1925,” resident Evelyna Rogers said. “We appreciate help, but we’re not a bunch of children who need someone to come in and take over.”
This sentiment was not unique to Newton. In many of the flood-ravaged areas, residents’ patience was wearing thin as state and local officials prevented them from returning to their homes to see what they had lost or, in many cases, if they had anything left.
The National Weather Service reported that The Ocmulgee River in Macon was falling and was at 18 feet, down from a 35-foot crest. The Flint River levels given at Montezuma were now at 30 feet, down from the record crest of 36 feet. In Albany, a record crest between 45 to 46 feet was expected, which would be 25 feet above flood stage and far higher than the previous record of 37.8 feet in 1925. Newton was expected to crest at 46 feet. Flood stage there is 24 feet. Bainbridge was expected to crest at 45 feet with the flood stage there being 25 feet.
Although more than 1,500 residents in Lee County were displaced, County Commission Chairman John Leach said, “I don’t know where they are going, but they aren’t going to shelters. We set up a shelter here, but we shut it down because no one came.”
In the low-lying area of west Bainbridge, 3,000 residents packed up and left, with others working to follow them. As the state death toll hit 28, Gov. Miller predicted, “The worst is yet to come for Bainbridge.”
The efforts to keep HCA open were successful, and the water there was beginning to fall. However, it would be some time before the area between Slappey Drive and Dawson Road would drain toward the Kiokee with the assistance of many pumps.
In Americus, the water was receding, but there was little joy.
“I have not had a more depressing time,” Arthur Parker, funeral director at Barnum Funeral Home, said. He would be handling the funerals for eight of the county’s 12 flood victims.
JULY 11: Georgia Secretary of State Max Cleland announced he would send a task force to evaluate damage to the polling places that were damaged to determine if the state primary scheduled for July 19 could take place. Dougherty County Elections Supervisor Carolyn Hatcher said there were a variety of options open, including her preference of postponing the primary for three weeks. This would allow the 45 counties affected by the flood to recover. Miller said he didn’t think that would be necessary.
When a FEMA office opened, more than 1,000 waited in line at Highland Middle School seeking disaster relief, including up to 18 months’ rental assistance for temporary housing, grants for minimal home repair and uninsured property, unemployment payments for up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost their jobs because of the disaster, loans of up to $200,000 for a primary residence, $40,000 for personal property and up to $1.5 million for businesses.
A dairy tanker crossed the Highway 200 bridge outside Newton, completing a two-day trip from Quitman to deliver four, thousand-gallon portable tanks of drinking water for the thousand displaced persons sheltering there.
In Bainbridge, the police and National Guard worked together trying to prepare for the approaching water. A third of the city’s 10,000 residents were evacuated.
JULY 12: Traffic on the “Cordele round-about” was getting snarled in Lee County as more and more Albanians used the route. Lee County Sheriff Harold Breeden said he believed that as people used the route, it would become easier.
“It’s increased today, but it’s not anything we can’t handle,” he said.
Mail service that had been disrupted for east Albany resumed on the 12th. Trash collection in Albany resumed on its regular schedule. Dougherty County Police Chief Bill Kicklighter stated, “We have known from the beginning that we could expect some looting. … But Sunday night was the quietest it has been in east Albany since the flooding began.”
Albany City Manager, Janice Allen reported that utilities were operating where flooding was not a threat.
In Americus, the death toll rose to 15, accounting for half of the total deaths across the state. The body count there would have been much higher if Dan Tolbert, a 46-year-old electrical contractor, had not rescued six girls and two women from a children’s home located there.
Reports from Chehaw indicated that most of the goats, a baby llama, two wallabies and a male bison had drowned. The rest of the Park’s 150 animals were reported to be sharing dry ground.
Residents of Newton were bracing for an expected crest as the Flint surged toward Bainbridge. Meanwhile, the Rev. Joseph Wallis, pastor of Travelers Rest Free Will Baptist Church, said the church was ready to accept up to 100 flood victims.
JULY 13: President Clinton landed at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport to conduct a helicopter tour of the area. He was accompanied by Miller and Congressman Sanford Bishop. Afterward, he promised $65.5 million in federal aid for flood-damaged areas of Georgia, Alabama and portions of Florida. Georgia’s estimated share was $19 million. With Clinton in the city, the fourth Albany fatality is confirmed. The coffins that were exposed by the flood waters were being stored at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds.
JULY 14: The Flint in Albany is still 20 feet above flood stage. Officials allow the Broad Avenue bridge to be opened for pedestrian traffic, directly linking the two sides of the city for the first time since the waters rose a week earlier.
The Georgia Department of Labor announced that $4 million had been approved to hire the unemployed to help with cleanup efforts. Dougherty County commissioners approved allowing National Guard troops that had been sleeping in church shelters to be housed in the new county jail, which has yet to be used for its intended purpose. Water still covered 300,00 acres of cropland in Georgia with an estimated loss of $100 million.
Newton is under water, and a tent city and mobile hospital were established there.
A Dawson woman was identified as the 30th flood fatality in the region.
JULY 15: The Liberty Expressway bridge is reopened for vehicular traffic. More than 5,000 Dougherty County residents have applied for FEMA disaster assistance. More than $1.9 million in food stamps have been issued, and a plan is created to consolidate the 324 flood shelters in the city as refugees begin to return to their homes or find shelter elsewhere. The July 19 primaries will proceed on schedule. A countywide plan to prevent post-flood fraud is put in place.
David Brantley is interviewed in an Albany shelter where he mourns the loss of his wife, Pearlie Mae, who drowned in their home after the couple refused the advice of police, who went to the home and advised them to evacuate. “She just said she wasn’t leaving,” he recounted. “There was no use in me leaving her there alone.”
The couple sought shelter in the home’s attic as the waters rose. After a few days in the sweltering darkness, Pearlie Mae Davis ignored her husband’s pleas to stay with him in the attic, stepped down in the room below and drowned, becoming the flood’s 28th victim. Brantley remained in the attic for six days and seven nights before he was rescued.
JULY 16: The Flint River in Albany dropped 9 feet from its record peak, but 2,000 people are still in shelters. Local officials predict that the cleanup process will take months and rebuilding will take years. It is estimated that 9,200 houses have been affected, and water continues to stand in low-lying areas.
At this point, residents are being allowed back into their homes to access the damage and begin cleaning up. The scene at Chickasaw is surreal. The ground level of the fieldstone home is scattered with waterlogged furniture. The contents of overturned refrigerators and freezers are scattered throughout the house. Unfortunately, one freezer had been dedicated to holding two-liter bottles that had been frozen containers of catfish. These were now scattered throughout the house and had thawed out days before the family could return.
JULY 17: The Flint has dropped 17 feet from its crest. 7,000 people, almost 9% of the city’s population, have lost their home with another 12,000 people living in homes that are heavily damaged. Temple B’nai Israel opens its doors to members of Mt. Zion Baptist Church for their Sunday services as their church was severely damaged in the flood.
During the day, 5,000 Mormons arrived with another 3,000 anticipated to arrive the following day. They prove to be a self-sufficient army, having perfected their relief efforts responding to Hurricane Andrew in Florida two years earlier. They quickly set up a tent city and got ready to roll into the flood-ravaged areas.
“When our crews get out to a house, they’re under orders to do whatever the homeowner wants done and not do anything they don’t want done,” explained Kurt Anderson, a Bishop in the church.
Ned Newcomb can verify this to be true.
“When the Mormons showed up, their goal was to get in there and strip everything out,” he said. “However, I remember Bob telling everyone working there that any piece of wood they found, however insignificant it seemed, had to be placed in a pile under the old oak tree in the front yard.”
For several years after the flood, Bob would rebuild all the damaged furniture utilizing his wood pile. He had a treasured grandfather clock restored and working by Thanksgiving.
JULY 18: The Flint has dropped to 20.8 feet in Albany, just above the 20-foot flood stage. Three of the four bridges in town are reopened to vehicular traffic. However, the Oglethorpe bridge is open only for pedestrian traffic. Officials estimate that the Albany State College campus has received $50 million in damages. The National Guard rotates one unit out and another in to continue supporting the community.
As the thousands of volunteers roll into Albany to assist in clean-up efforts, Judy Bowles, executive director of the Albany-Dougherty Clean Community Commission, will be tasked with not only organizing their efforts but finding them somewhere to eat and sleep during their mission.
“Be very sensitive to the homeowners,” she told the volunteers. “Some of them have lost everything. When you finish your assignments, just walk around the neighborhood and ask other people if they need any help.”
Busloads of volunteers from Atlanta continue to pour in.
Contributions toward the cleanup would range from the $23.58 that 11-year-old Tecia Pitts raised at her lemonade stand in Kennesaw, to the $200,000 and 1.1 million cans of drinking water provided by Anheuser-Busch Co.
JULY 19: The Flint recedes below flood stage in Albany. The death toll rises as the body of a local man missing since July 7 is found in a drainage ditch. More than 31% of registered voters turn out for the state primary election. The Oglethorpe bridge is opened for vehicular traffic. One state agency gives an initial estimate of $500 million in damages to roads, bridges and other public facilities in Albany and Dougherty County. The Albany City Commission discusses rent-control and measures to prevent price-gouging.
JULY 20: The first of what become hundreds of FEMA trailers arrive in Albany. Under the newly created Albany/Dougherty Cooperative Cleanup Effort, flood-related waste and debris are picked up from homes and businesses.
JULY 21: Officials in Newton announce that the 88-year-old courthouse there will not be repaired due to extensive flood damage.
JULY 22: Waterlogged records from the Albany public cemetery line the hallway of the GBI headquarters in DeKalb County as authorities there work to identify the remains of more than 400 burials uncovered by the floodwaters. They plan to open a facility in Albany where people can determine if the remains of their relatives are among those recovered following the flood.
In Newton, reports refer to a modern-day ghost town. Prior to the flood, 707 people lived there. The Red Cross estimates that 197 homes have been damaged or destroyed. Elizabeth Cook, a National Red cross worker assigned to the town, explains the gravity of the situation.
“There’s nothing here,” she says. “Nowhere to go, no place to rent. There are no alternatives in Newton. People have to leave to find alternative housing.”
In Albany churches turn from Church Night Supper to feeding the multitudes. First Baptist Church on Pine Avenue goes from cooking for 500 one night a week to preparing up to 8,000 meals a day. Sunnyside Baptist Church on Mock Road prepares about 1,000 meals a day.
By July 28, Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders meets with public health service representatives on the scene to further access the region’s needs.
JULY 24: Nine buses of volunteers roll out of metro Atlanta headed for Albany. By month’s end, the death toll had reached 31.