Posted by: bree1972 | April 14, 2011

A Flood of Memories 4/13/2011

The year was 1994.  It was summer.  Ted and I still lived and worked in Albany, GA and planned to spend part of our vacation taking my mom and dad to New England, a trip they had wanted to take for a long time.  We were looking forward to the trip – it would be our first time in the New England states also.  Although the trip was a success, and I cherish the memories I carry from it, we returned home to an area that had been devastated – not by the predicted “flood of the century” – but by a 500-year flood of epic proportions.

A little tropical storm called Alberto had blown through the Florida Panhandle on Sunday, July 3.  Ted was in Panama City (we had a condo there at the time).  Besides messing up the long holiday weekend for tourists with lots of rain and wind, it barely registered as a storm.  But it wouldn’t go away.  It continued inland and between midnight and 8 am on Monday, it had dumped 8 inches of rain on Cuthbert (northwest of Albany), before heading toward Macon (2 hours north of Albany).  After a heavy rainfall Monday morning in Albany, the 4th of July fireworks show there was cancelled for the first time in 30 years.

By Tuesday, Alberto had deposited at least 15 inches of rain on 14 counties north of Albany – with no let-up in sight.  Rivers and creeks were swelling out of their banks and washing over dams in Middle Georgia.  Some dams burst.  Homes were flooded.  People drowned – 15 in Sumter County, where we now live.  And all that water was heading south. By the time the waters of the Flint River flooded Albany, it had already devastated the homes along the banks of Lake Blackshear.

I rode over to Ed and Sally Feagin’s this week to talk with them about their memories of the flood.  They live now in the same house they lived in then, and being situated on a high, sloping lot, their house had not flooded.  Because most houses on the waters of Lake Blackshear are built on low lots (some only a few feet from the water), the majority of the houses were flooded – to the roofline on one-story homes, and to the ceiling of the first floor on two-story houses.   Very few homes survived with no water damage – Ed and Sally’s was one of them.

The Feagins talked about being awakened at 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning (July 6) by Sumter County Sheriff deputies going house to house – telling everyone to leave immediately.  On Flintside Drive, our street and where the Feagins live also, there are two tiny creeks we cross on the way to the highway.  Both were in danger of overflowing the road and washing it away.  Within minutes of the deputies arriving, the power went out on Flintside.  Sally says she picked up a life jacket, a jar of peanut butter, and their dog Oscar and his food.  They jumped in one of their cars, and when they arrived at one of creeks, water was already a foot deep on the road.  A few hours later, the road washed out at both creeks.

The Feagin's boathouse, as it appears today - photo taken from their deck.

The Feagins boathouse as it appears today – photo taken from their deck.

During the days Sally and Ed could not get back to their house, Ed was taken in by a friend by boat. The flat “raft”-looking object is the roof of their boathouse, flags still flying. Looking beyond the water and up the slope is their house.

Last week we took the pontoon boat down the river to the Crisp County Power Dam.  Lake Blackshear was formed in 1930 when the dam was constructed to provide hydro-electric power to businesses and residents within a 330 square mile radius.   It borders five counties and has 97 miles of shoreline.

The levee today holds back the waters of Lake Blackshear . . .

 

. . . while the gates of the dam are opened and closed to produce electricity for the surrounding area. Notice how much lower the water level is on the other side of the levee (where the fishing boats are) than from the lake level where we are idling in our boat (by the way, this is a “zoom” shot – getting this close to the levee is not allowed).

 

At the height of the flood in 1994, the water levels on both sides of the levee were almost equal.

 

Even with all the gates wide open, the levee could not withstand the power of the Flint River, which was pouring 1.5 million gallons of water a second into the reservoir . . .

 

. . . and eventually the levee was breached.  This photo shows the water flowing over the levee.

Because the water levels were the same on both sides, there was no massive emptying of Lake Blackshear and very little additional flooding downriver.  Ed and Sally said the breaching of the dam only lowered the water in the lake about 6″.  But in the days ahead, as the waters receded on both sides of the dam, the lake emptied and except for the river channel, Lake Blackshear was high and dry for over a year while the dam was repaired and rebuilt.

The Feagins boathouse, as it appeared for a year while the dam was repaired.

Ted and I had watched with horror the flooding every morning on TV from various hotel rooms up the east coast and into New England.  Each morning we would find ourselves watching friends in Albany being interviewed on the Today Show.  Our home in the city was not in a flood zone, so that didn’t concern us.  What caused us great worry was the number of people who we DID know whose homes had been flooded.  Both of us worked for the school system in Albany, and we returned to several flooded schools also.  Once back home we helped where we could and learned up close and personal how strong people are in adversity.

In the spring of 1995, Blake had just graduated from high school and gone off to college, and without the concern of school zones to hamper us, we sold our home in Albany and moved into a rental home on Lake Blackshear.  In October of that year Hurricane Opal swept across the Florida panhandle, taking all the shingles off the front roof of our beach condo, leaving only the plywood base.  Tired of the constant worry over hurricanes, we sold the condo a week after Opal hit and began to look for a home to buy on Lake Blackshear.

Our condo sat one block from the beach – the one on the left corner of the complex you see (back row).  Opal demolished the huge sand dunes that protected the houses across the street from the beach . . .

On our trip back home from the dam, we turned up Cedar Creek.

 

When we moved into this rental house on South Cedar Creek in July of 1995, the dam repair had just been finished and the lake was beginning to fill again. Within a month, the water was once again at full pool.

Less than a year later – in May of 1996 – we moved into our present home.

Our little lake cabin as it appeared when we bought it – no porch, no deck, no enlarged bedroom. The door you see going down to the “patio” now opens onto our sunroom, and where I am sitting in the glider is now part of the master bedroom. As we said then, “it has a lot of potential”.

The shed in our yard was still stained by the high water mark of the flood. Before it was pressure-cleaned, Ted had this little plaque made to show where the water had reached.

Today the little plaque can be seen on the shed next to the tree – about halfway up. Flood water covered the boathouse, and came up into the yard and under the house, taking out all the air conditioning ductwork. Because our lot is high and sloping like the Feagins, the water never made it into the house.

In 1998 the river flooded again – they called this one a “100-year flood”, but the damage at Lake Blackshear was minimal compared to 1994.  Flintside (our road) once again was washed away in two places, and we were stranded for several days at home except for an emergency boat trip across the lake to get my mother safely back to Sylvester.  She had come to the lake for the weekend, and when she started home she discovered the road out two miles from our house.  Having only brought her needed medicines for the weekend, we called Ronald Sumner, one of my cousins in Sylvester, and he met us on the other side of the lake and took her home.  That was a cold, rough ride – it was March, and the river was wild and swollen.

The first road washout on Flintside in 1998.

The other Flintside washout.

Taking my Mom across the Flint River so she could be picked up on the other side – the day the roads washed out during the Flood of 1998.

Anyone who lives on the water – whether it be river or ocean – knows the dangers that come with that lifestyle, and although we don’t worry about hurricanes now, eventually the Flint River will flood again.  But – within a period of four years, south Georgia endured a 500-year and a 100-year flood.  We can only pray that we’re good to go now for at least the next 600 years.  We can only pray.

Note:  Thank you to Sally & Ed for your memories and photos.  Some information and photos were also  taken from “A Flood of Memories”, produced by The Albany Herald.   Until this week I didn’t know that another friend from the river (who lives in Americus, but has a weekend place just around the corner from us) was a hero in Americus during the flooding there on July 5, 1994.  To read an exciting script of how Dan Torbert saved the residents of a youth home from certain death, please click here: Dans_Rescue.

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Responses

  1. I have a VHS tape of the flood of 94 which I recorded from TV 55 coverage if you’d ever like to see it. Of course, you must have a VHS player.

  2. I will never forget that time; my sister`s house on Cedar Creek was flooded. Water was all the way up to the roof and it took them more than a year to get their house liveable again.

  3. Amazing pictures! I like how you’ve put it together with past and present. You sure tell a good story!

  4. Wow, what a way to start a morning! I too liked the way you presented the story with the past and present. Great pictures. I also read Dans rescue. That was very emotional reading. Thanks for sharing this whole story Brenda. I learned things I never knew.

  5. Wow-that must have been so very scary. Both times, actually. I also liked how you interwove the past and present shots. Water is such a powerful being-I was watching some of the video from the flooding in Austraila a while back as well as some of the Japanese footage, I was just awestruck.
    Thanks for sharing and have a lovely weekend. I’m crossing my fingers for good weather Sunday-my husband is running his first marathon and I hope he doesn’t have to run in rain or snow..The Mackinac 8 mile will be a breeze for him this year!

    • Wow – hoping for good weather for you too! Awesome that he’s running a marathon! Good luck to him!

  6. Brenda,

    I can’t say your blog and Dan’s Rescue were interesting, although they were. I can’t say they were exciting, although they were. I can say they were amazing, devastating and various other adjectives that mean the same thing. Because I have a tendency to make myself a part of what I’m reading, I’m just exhausted from your accounts this morning. Nevertheless, I’m thankful for them. They make me so thankful for all the wonderful blessings that have been mine over the many years, as well as those that are mine now.

    Do you know anything about what has become of any of the people in the account of Dan Torbert?

    Maybe winters and late Springs in Michigan aren’t so bad after all!

  7. Wow. I read the account of the flood. I don’t know why I don’t know about this, as my parents lived in Alabama during that time. Incredible. Thanks for sharing these stories with us!

  8. Do any of you know where I can obtain a copy of the video tape made by WALB on the flood of 94? In my 6th grade science class we always discuss the flood in conjunction with our study of hurricanes since this was a local event, and I have been unsuccessful in finding a copy of the video.

    By the way, I did enjoy your memories and the effort with the pictures. Good job.

    Jane
    jww_31786@yahoo.com

    • Hi Jane…

      I am also a 6th grade science teacher on Saint Simons Island. We are discussing the massive power of water and I grew up in Americus and saw it first hand. I was just browsing the web and was also trying to find the Video made by WALB. Did you ever obtain a copy? If so, what could I do to “borrow” or buy a copy of that to show my students? If not, do you know where I might find a copy? Feel free to email me at clintmorgan@fredericaacademy.org. Thank you, Clint Morgan


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