- Lee County Library Local History Collection
- Flood of the century: southwest Georgia
- Brooks, Michael
- Date of Original:
- Flint River (Ga.)
Tropical Storm Alberto, 1994
- United States, Georgia, Dougherty County, 31.53337, -84.21625
United States, Georgia, Lee County, 31.77951, -84.14113
- Book about the damage Tropical Storm Alberto in 1994 brought to Albany, Georgia, and to neighboring Lee County, Georgia, that includes sepia tone images
- Metadata URL:
- Digital Object URL:
- 52 pages
- Holding Institution:
- Lee County Library System (Ga.)
Albany James H. Gray Civic Center
REF 975.8 FLO GO.RM.
Flood of the century :
1994: The Beginning
Volunteers to The rescue
The Months Ahead
On Sacred Grounds
Fall from Antediluvian Grace
Three days up a Tree
The Flint River
crested at a
record 44 feet;
the crest of the
Flint at flood
PHOTOGRAPHY................................ MICHAEL BROOKS/MARC HEDGES
Shawn Hirst/ William R. Kicklighter
Vic Miller/K.K. Snyder
Vic Miller/K.K. Snyder
LTSS COUNTY LTTA.NY
Ph. (912) 7
Post Office Eox 49
Leesburg, Georgia 317^
1 120 West Broad Avenue Albany Georgia 31707 (912) 888-0035
<3)1994 Brooks Publishing reserves all copy rights. Reproduction in part or in
whole is prohibited without written permission
wise man loses nothinc
Flood of The Century
by K.K. Snyder
"This is not a drill: please evacuate your home immediately. Take as
few of your belongings as possible. You're home may soon be under
water. Act quickly. I repeat, this is not a drill."
For thousands in Dougherty, Lee and surrounding counties,
evacuating their homes and losing everything they own to the
relentless ravaging flood waters of the 1994 flood will be the worst
experience of their lives. Though the murky waters have receded in
most residential areas, streets are haunted by the sights and smells
of a destructive mother nature. Thousands still remain in shelters
having nothing left to go home to. Displaced caskets are tied to
trees and stored in hopes of possible identification so that they may
be laid to rest once again.
The Flint River spills over its banks taking homes and lives
with it. People rush to stores to hoard supplies, hoping to wait
out this disaster. Residents buy every oil stove available in Albany
that January 20th because of the closing of the gas plant as a
safety precaution. All trains from the north are stopped to prevent
the railroad cars from plunging into the Kinchafoonee Creek
where the bridge has washed out. The public committee has only
400 meals to serve to displaced survivors during the entire ordeal.
The Flint crests at 37.8 feet- a record that stands until 1994.
1994: The Beginning
It was the 4th of July weekend. Friends and families
joined for cook-outs and parties in celebration of the
country's independence. Weather channels were centering
on the newly developing tropical storm, Alberto. Residents
of Florida were warned of the possibility of a hurricane, but
luckily lives were spared. As the depression stalled over the
southeast, the rains began to fall. Inches of the wet drops
filled our river and creeks as well as those to the north of
Albany. Flash flood warnings were being aired for certain
areas, but no one could foresee the flood that would
eventually destroy lives, homes, and farmland.
The Macon area was first to be hit by this catastrophe,
taking eight lives in a short time. Albany engineers then
began to calculate the effect these rains would have on the
Flint River. Not even the preciseness of mathematics could
predict the vast area that would ultimately be flooded.
Disaster next struck Sumter County. Americus received
a record 21 inches of rain in one day. Another seventeen
lives were lost July 6th as cars plunged off the washed out
roads, their drivers traveled unaware of the dangers that lay
ahead. The city of Americus became isolated as road
Officials of Dougherty County and the City of Albany
were warned of the impending flood, with estimates setting
the crest of the Flint River at 37 feet. By the next day, the
river had surpassed the engineers' figures and was at 41 feet,
already 20 feet above flood stage. This was the first day of
official evacuations, which would eventually extend to areas
residents would never have believed to be in the flood plain.
The ominous river water rushed into areas quickly, necessi-
tating rescues from tree branches and the rooftops of homes.
Rains were still falling, the river and the creeks still rising.
The first deaths were recorded for the city of Albany as
two children lost their lives in the murky waters when their
family's car was washed into the river. The Flint was now
measuring 43 feet and still rising. All main bridges in Albany
were closed, and the east and west sides of the city were
separated by raging waters, leaving each side to its
Volunteers had already streamed into the area to assist
with evacuations, rescues, sand bagging, and the over-full
shelters. Shelters were opening in increasing numbers in the
county's schools and churches. The National Guard was
brought in as well as the Marine Corps personnel from MCLB
in Albany. Members of the DNR as well as State Troopers
were also on the scene to do whatever needed to be done.
Unfortunately, many optimistic residents who attempted to
defend their homes from floodwaters had to be rescued by
the many heroes of this tragic event. By July 9th, 30 shelters
were in operation in Albany alone, filled with the more than
Photo: Shawn Hirst
the waters Jr
rowned everything except man and day, lytiny them above the clouds where they saw a
wonJerJul worlJ oj lanJ and trees - Creek dndian Jllyi,
24,000 evacuees who were forced from their homes.
Finally, the waters ceased to rise. The Flint crested at 44
feet, 5 feet above the record level set in January 1925.
Almost miraculously, essential power and water sources were
not affected by the flood, sparing Albany the hardships faced
by many less-fortunate communities.
Lives had been lost, saved, and changed forever by an
event recorded as the worst natural disaster ever to hit the
state of Georgia. Flood waters slowly receded, leaving behind
mud, household belongings, and an indescribable stench.
But Albanians returned- undaunted by the tragedy- to
salvage what they could and to begin rebuilding in the place
they know is home.
Volunteers To The Rescue...
This area would be mourning additional deaths had it not
been for the unselfish outpouring of volunteers.
Lee County is especially proud of its volunteer staff at the
Lee County Fire Department and the Leesburg Emergency
Rescue Station. 17-year-old Jacqueline McCorkle, the youngest
volunteer of the Lee County Fire Department, was involved in
the evacuations of both Lee and Dougherty County residents
along with her boyfriend Clint Purdue, his bother Stacy, and
"It wouldn't have been possible without the volunteers.
Everybody knows everybody in Lee County, and they always
pull together in a time of need."
Her father, A.J. McCorkle, is also a volunteer for the
Century District Fire Department, as well as being Fire Chief for
the city of Albany. Like many people, both paid employees and
in the state
volunteers, Mr. McCorkle did double duty during the flood days.
His job at the Albany station includes support for the fire
department, supplying fuel and oil mix for the rescue boats.
His unofficial title is now "Hero, as he was involved in the
rescues of many who would have surely perished had he not
been there for them.
On Wednesday, July 6th, McCorkle began to monitor the
Kinchafoonee in Lee County as well as Muckalee Creek.
At 6:00 p.m., every member of the Lee County Fire and Rescue
team had been paged to report to the Century command post.
Jacqueline reported to her dad that the creek had risen 1 foot in
a short 15 minutes. Knowing that time was not on his side,
McCorkle decided to form a Red Bone District post to
initiate evacuation of residents now being threatened by the
By this time the Hwy.32 bridge had been closed and parts
of Lee County were becoming isolated from one another.
Brian Pollard lived in one of the homes in danger of being
flooded along Stoney Road, and McCorkle arrived at the home
to help Pollard's wife get the familys things moved to safety.
Unfortunately, water overran the bank quickly, and people who
had been watching the evacuation suddenly needed to evacuate
themselves. "By the time we got the last people out the water
was waist deep. This was within one hour after the water had
begun to come up over the bank."
Once that area was secured, McCorkle and his fellow
volunteers moved to Graves Springs Road, where one trailer
had already washed away and two others were submerged in
the swift flowing current of the flooded creek.
At this point, a boat was still not available and their own
lives were definitely at risk. "All the boats were over at the
Century District, for the Century area rescue. They never
thought Muckalee was going to flood." The volunteers were
now cut off from Albany because Philema Road was under
water. Mr. Hare, a citizen of Lee County, volunteered his
services as well as his own boat for rescue purposes. A Red
Bone command post was established at the Express Lane
convenience store to organize rescues when McCorkle
learned from his radio monitor that Crusoe Village had gone
under and the Albany Fire Dept, had been dispatched to that
area. He then alerted the Albany Dept, that he had a rescue
boat available on the Lee County side and was given autho-
rization to assist in rescues. As they prepared to launch the
boat, another call came in, this one from the Sportsman's
Club Road area, that a woman was trapped, so the boat was
diverted to respond. However, when the call was answered,
volunteers were met by a woman who just wanted someone
to help load furniture.
After the false call, McCorkle came back and launched the
boat at Chehaw Park. The boat contained McCorkle, Bobby
Spargo of the Albany Fire Dept., David Howell and Jim Dietch
you off whilst thou art on the
Photo: Shawn hirst
of Lee Co. Fire and Rescue, and Mr. Hare. The current was
too swift to allow the boat to carry them to Lovers Lane Road
to assist in evacuations. Instead the team went up Muckalee
Creek. Reportedly, a couple had been calling for help on their
cellular phone from the attic of their home since 2:00 that
morning and no boats had been able to reach them.
Two boats that had previously set out for this rescue at 3:00
had not been heard from since. So not only was the safety of
area residents a concern, but the safety of the rescue teams
McCorkle's team spotted a Lee C.I. rescue boat in the
trees attempting to rescue two men. The small engine on the
C.I.'s boat wasn't strong enough to tame the swift current,
and their rescue attempt had been futile. Mr. Hare's bass
boat had a much more powerful engine and McCorkle knew
that his rescue teams help was crucially need. "When we
spotted these two guys hanging on to a tree, there was no
way we were going to leave them. When we got up to the
tree, the two men piled in; we didnt have to tell them to get
in the boat.
The rescue team then resumed the search for the couple
stranded in their attic. Soon they spotted the couple who
were now on the peak of the roof after chopping their way
out of the attic with an ax. The boat being full, the team
headed back to the landing to drop off the four whose lives
they'd saved. Now it was time for McCorkle and Spargo to
report for duty at the Albany Fire Department.
Donna Mathis, secretary to Charles Hardison, was
another double-duty volunteer who worked hours upon hours
to answer phones at the rescue center in Lee County while
her four children were being cared for at home. Mrs. Mathis
is also a paramedic for Lee County and was busy in that role
during the flood days as well. She hesitated to even attempt
to give a list of all the volunteers. "There were so many- I'd
hate to leave anyone out.
One of her most memorable incidents of this whole
ordeal was a call she received from a 12-year-old boy who
was at home with his grandparents off Century Road The
youth's grandmother was hooked up to an oxygen tank
powered by a battery that was slowly running down.
Afraid of approaching flood waters, the boy placed a call at
2:00 a.m. which was answered by Mrs. Mathis at the rescue
center. He expressed his fear and their need to be rescued,
but no boat could reach their area. Instead, Mathis enlisted
the help of a military vehicle capable of traveling through
deep water and dispatched them to the home. The boy and
his grandparents were whisked away to an ambulance
equipped with oxygen, and the next day the boy called
Mathis to thank her, even remembering her first name. "1 told
him he was the one who deserved the thanks since he had
done a wonderful job for a 12-year-old kid," says Mathis.
"That made staying up all night worthwhile for me."
Be It Ever So Humble...
Certainly evacuees longed for the magic of Dorothy's red
shoes, to be able to click their heels together while repeating
"There's no place like home, there's no place like home,"
waking up to find themselves in their own beds at home,
safe and dry.
However, thousands of evacuated residents had to flock
to the flood shelters seeking food, safety, and a place to
sleep. Almost three dozen shelters were in operation in
Albany, manned by hundreds of volunteers. Shelter workers
did everything from cooking and serving meals and snacks, to
cleaning bathrooms and playing with the many children
who'd been abruptly taken from their homes. A Henderson
Road evacuee, Mary Lee Reese, was housed in the Sherwood
Church Family Life Center shelter along with her father,
husband, mother-in-law and two sisters. Mrs. Reeses father,
Charlie Platt, is 102-years-old and was in Albany during the
disastrous flood of 1925. Time has erased all memories of his
previous flood experience, and even now he doesn't compre-
hend that they've lost their home to the flood. "I told Daddy
that the house was gone," said Mrs. Reese, "and he said
'Gone where?' Perhaps Charlie is better off not understanding
the loss his family has suffered.
Other shelter residents sat day after day, not knowing
whether they had a home to return to. "I'd like to know one
way or another," said one evacuee, "At least then we could
begin to make plans for our family." Tom Pollock,
Administrator of Sherwood Baptist church says things have
run smoothly at the shelter. "We're fortunate to have many
nurses who are members of our church volunteering to
provide medical services for our shelter," said Pollock.
The first Sunday service at Sherwood held after the flood
must have been very inspirational. 'We had 20 people saved
during our service that day," stated Pollock. After a disaster of
this magnitude, some people undoubtedly come to believe
that they are at the mercy of a higher power.
As the days stretched to weeks, fatigue began to creep
up on the volunteer shelter workers. A few problems did arise
in some of the shelters, but that is to be expected when so .
many people are thrown together and forced to live in such
.dose quarters. There were isolated reports of fornication
among shelter inhabitants unable to control their hormones.
Some shelters had problems with evacuees being uncoopera-
tive with clean up responsibilities, often walking away from a
mess or spill, leaving it for some volunteer to clean up.
However, many evacuees had better living conditions in the
shelters than they'd had at home and were very thankful for
the three meals a day and air conditioning now being made
available to them. Most shelter occupants said they were
happy with the care they were being given and were grateful
to have somewhere to go in this calamity.
Many shelters, such as the Sherwood center, are merely
temporary and will be transferring occupants to other
shelters as space becomes available. Unfortunately, some
shelters may have to remain in operation for months, as
evacuees arrange to rebuild their homes or find other
dwellings to move into.
As in all natural disasters, the Red Cross was quickly on
the scene, organizing several shelters of their own and set-
ting up distribution warehouses to supply all area shelters.
Bill Hamby, a Red Cross Disaster Service Volunteer, has been
in charge of the distribution warehouse on Dawson Road
An Albany resident, Hamby said, 'Tve worked 17 disasters
since 1979, but this is the first one that's come to me." :
The Red Cross has gathered the full strength of its forces in
this area and has some of its most experienced workers
going around the clock to try to alleviate some of the
problems faced by the flood victims.
A large group of volunteers were the members of the
Brotherhood of Southern Baptist Cooking Unit of First
Baptist Church. These hardworking people cooked daily for
the shelters and sent the food out in Red Cross Emergency
Response vehicles to be distributed to the shelters.
Similarly, the Knights of Columbus kitchen cooked for the
150 sheltered at the Knights' hall as well as those at the
Darton College gym.
School cafeterias were also busy preparing massive
amounts of food to provide hot meals to shelter residents.
Most of the food prepared in these different kitchens was
purchased by the Red Cross, though a lot of food was
donated to prepare care packages for families who needed
Photo: Shawn Hirst
Photo: Shawn Hirst
them. Countless businesses donated supplies, food, and
baby needs in bulk amounts. The outpouring of charity was
relentless, with cleaning supplies and necessities pouring in
from across the nation. Many survivors of last year's devastat-
ing flood in the central states were happy to help in any way
they could. 'Tve been through this; 1 know how helpless
these people feel," stated one survivor from Missouri.
The Months Ahead...
While many businesses have been destroyed or forced to
take considerable losses because of this flood, the pendulum
will soon swing to the other extreme. The economy will see a
generous elevation in months to come and unemployment
will be lowered as well. Furniture, clothing, and building
materials suppliers will face heavy demands. Jobs will
abound for the unemployed in the areas of clean-up teams
and construction crews. Rebuilding is going to take money
and laborers, bringing companies temporarily to this area.
Residents in need of rebuilding are being warned about the
likelihood of scam artists who'll try to make quick cash at the
expense of anyone who hires them. People are being advised
to contact the Better Business Bureau for references of the
potential contractor or business.
In another sense, the flood will have a tremendous
environmental impact. Everything from crop herbicides to
human corpses has been mixed through these foul waters.
Raw sewage was another element of this toxic mixture, as
drainage systems were overtaxed during the flooding.
However, because of the amount of water involved, dilution
of these hazardous elements may be an environmental buffer
for the affected areas. The EPA and EPD have been monitor-
ing this situation and plan to continue their assessments.
Another health hazard residents are being warned of is
the possibility of contracting cholera, hepatitis, and tetanus
by having bodily contact with the flood water or anything
which it has contaminated. Extreme caution is being advised
as the clean-up process continues.
This Too Shall Pass...
Or will it? A few religious sects believe that these disas-
ters are but a taste of what's to come before the end of the
world. Earthquakes, floods, deadly diseases, war - all of these
have been used as illustrations by some church leaders as an
attempt to warn sinners of what they may be headed for. But
how real is the belief of some of these followers? "About as
real as real can be, says one retired Pentecostal preacher
from Kentucky. "People's strong faith can get them through
just about anything, but it's at times like these that our faith
is truly tested, and one day the believers will be separated
from the disbelievers." Unfortunately, a disaster of this magni-
tude does not discriminate between its victims, taking any-
. ng and everything that gets in the way.
This flood will go down in record books and family diaries,
the story to be told generation after generation. Quite possibly,
the most significant thing survivors will remember is the com-
ing together of people who would ordinarily never cross paths,
to offer support, shelter, and the power to rebuild lives after so
much has been lost.
to the flood
Oh Sacred Grounds
By K.K. Snyder
Laying a loved one to rest is always a grief-filled experience.
So having to attempt to identify a deceased family members casket or
even an actual corpse or appendages would certainly be horrid.
This is the problem some Albany residents face now that flood waters
have begun to diminish. Over 400 caskets have been disturbed from
their peaceful depths, and in some cases the bodies have been
washed from within. Riverside and Oakview cemeteries, both city-
owned, were disturbed during the flood, as the swift current washed
away the soil covering the caskets. Once the dirt was displaced, the
caskets shot straight up out of the water, exploding as high as 6 feet
above the surface.
City coroner Bucky Brookshire has been hush-hush about the
plan for identification of the uprooted remains, admitting only that
they are being stored at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds.
Unfortunately, some of these caskets date back to the 19th century
and have deteriorated beyond the possibility of identification. Time is
certainly a factor in this situation, and hopefully most of the deceased
will be identified quickly and their bodies laid to rest once again,
probably a few feet deeper than before.
GBI Director Buddy Nix says GB1 teams are still searching for
additional remains which may have been washed away to other
locations downstream. Albany has been receiving advice on how to
deal with this problem from federal advisors who had over 600 caskets
and corpses to replace after last year's flood in the St. Louis area.
This process is expected to take several months as families are
assisted in identifying caskets and even corpses. Mr. Nix stated that
burial records at Riverside Cemetery were submerged in the flood
waters and are in the process of being dried and restored as much
A family assistance center has been set up to aid families who
had loved ones buried in either Riverside or Oakview cemeteries.
Mr. Brookshire stated that no identifications have been made as of
August 1. This will be a very painful process for most involved- just
one more way in which the tragedy of this flood will linger long after
the waters have come to rest within their banks.
f, silent9 solemn scene, wnere \saesars9 nerves9
U If Kircfidorfer
The waters came
They had come
a hundred years
but never bothered
than my light-sleeping
All of a sudden
I was awakened
above the earth
of a chartered
as if dead were alive
for the alive.
My fine housing
did not once
open a door.
I was roped,
tied, with others
to be stored
on the fairgrounds
until my turn came
to meet the medical
I was in the papers
but not with my head
satisfying the living
that they too
could, no would, die
and be put on show,
to really put
them under for sure.
33 shelters were
in operation at
the peak of
were housed in
Fall From Antediluvian Grace: A Personal and
Therefore Microcosmic Account of The Flood of 1994
by 0' Victor Miller
(For: Woody, Share, John Y., Fred, Lynn, Richard, Hope, Bruce, Mack,
Bob, Ben, Kay, John P, Aynne, Tony, Jackie, David H David P., Steve,
Mike D., Mike R Michael, Marc, Kick, Miss Trish, Sonny, Gilbert,
Carla, Carl, Clarice, The Lee County Volunteer Fire Department
Rescue Team, The Lee County Sheriffs Department, the Red Cross,
FEMA, the DNR, the National Guard and all the others.)
Its a disaster of biblical magnitude when graveyards yawn,
burping caskets and bodies from saturated graves. Sewers back up
and spew foul water, fountains regurgitating subterranean corrup-
tion. The stench, the loss, the disrupted peace of old age, the
sacrificed innocence, the mass confusion as tens of thousands of
homeless people exodus to higher ground. The rising water brings
forth snakes, frogs, rats, panic. The falling water collapses the earth,
causing gaping sinkholes, stench, disease, toxic wastes.
I keep waiting for it to rain blood, but it doesnt. Water keeps falling
from a pewter sky. Water and more water. Its rained for two weeks
straight. Alberto comes and goes, and now the flood makes its own
perpetual weather, the vapor rising from the Flint River basin and
falling as still more rain.
John Yeoman trucks me and Maisy, my eleven-year-old daugh-
ter, across Oakridge Bridge to Mothers house after Radium Springs
Road has been evacuated. Following tedious detours and begging
through roadblocks, we finally arrive on the water soaked lawn.
The raging Flint at the back steps is the color of meat loaf, ignoring
the high banks where I used to play and fish. High water hasnt
threatened this house in the fifty years since architect Edward Jones
and contractor Ben Blalock created it of heartpine, plaster, and
crown molding. Its a small house, a Williamsburg replica, with
steep roof and perfectionists' authenticity of detail. We are moved
by the quiet order of Mother's precious belongings, her Persian
carpets, Chinese porcelains, Queen Anne furniture, English
paintings. She has collected antiques with a lifelong reverence.
If material things can have spirit, these things do, haunted by
master craftsmen of different centuries and distant lands. We real-
ize too late that this house, along with thousands more, will flood.
A fire truck blows its horn for us to leave the area. Now.
We carry what we can up the narrow stairs to the second floor.
.John and I move furniture while Maisy disappears and returns with
three boxes of her great grandmother's jewelry, evidencing some
magnetic mechanism in the uterus that divines jewelry. How else
would she know where it was hidden? 1 just did, she says, but
Sandra Yeoman, subsequently defending her gender, says No.
Maisy knew where the jewelry was because she'd played with it
on rainy day, that's all. Women like Sandra are quick to disclaim
gynecological metaphysics, although every man knows the uterus,
even before it matures and after it desiccates, is the seat of magical
and worrisome phenomena and is drawn to anything that glitters,
from rhinestones to tiaras.
The creeks come up fast in Lee County. The typical scenario,
according to rescue chief l.W. Cook: 'Whoever got rescued jumped
back into the water to help somebody else. We'd never have gotten
everybody out if they hadn't. We just didn't have enough people,
even with the National GuaRoad"
At 11:00 Wednesday night a bearded volunteer bangs on my
door and drafts me and my jonboat to rescue residents from
Northampton rooftops, where the Muckalee Creek is rising four feet
per hour. As I leave, Claire hands me a life jacket that used to
belong to my stepdaughter, Mary Catherine, before she turned six
and outgrew it. I try it on, but it elevates my arms so that I have to
crab sideways through the door.
We top a hill on Northampton and see the flooded subdivi-
sion. Emergency lights flash eerily on wrinkled water. Late model
cars and trucks are submerged to their side mirrors, and some
dome lights still burn. Tides of water rush through new houses
puking belongings out upstairs windows as owners sit on roofs
hugging their knees. We are given addresses of victims trapped by
the water, but the mailboxes are underwater. We identify
Northampton by rooftops and utility poles.
Lee County rescue workers launch my boat into the east end
of Northampton road over the vanished banks of the creek.
They assign me Tony Sellars, who's trying to rescue his neighbors.
Mr. Fryer, a calm, stocky man recovering from a back injury,
lowers himself into the boat by a rope from a gable. He has a better
flashlight than ours and he swaps. We'll lose the flashlight when I
get too big for my britches and wreck the boat.
After rescuing several boat loads of people, I'm feeling pretty
good. We transport a little boy named Stevie to a National Guard
truck that will reunite him with his mother. One woman leaves her
collies in the attic with a window open. I hastily promise to go back
for them after all the humans are out. Sometime before dawn this
ere we love ,
woman will decide I'm the most despicable liar in Lee County, but
now we're doing fine.
I've learned to make wide upstream passes to get in close to the
houses. The water over lawns is so fast, I can't speed fast enough
downstream to stay in control. We buzz in, whipping in and out of
trees like a racing boat rounding pylons.
'Where do the Tindellsdive?"
"They're way down toward the end."
The water above the street is swift but steady. I run over a few
mail boxes until I get the hang of driving over submerged roads and 1
speed up, getting the boat up on a plane. Suddenlywhomp
eeeeeeeee-Yowwe're sailing through the air, screaming above the
deranged pitch of the airborne outboardYowerrrrrruntil we
splash back down, sending spray high into the air. What the hell
"You hit a truck, Tony says.
So now we know. The cab of a submerged truck is just the right
camber to launch a speeding jonboat skywaRoad
Tony points out the general direction of the Tindell house, and
we zip into the collective whitewater of flooded yards, where trees
braid the rushing current that has broken over the belly of an oxbow.
We buck and slide through the treacherous water, but I'm back up to
speed, humming with adrenaline. Grooving on the slap of the bow as
it breaks through the waves. This rescue business is quite fulfilling.
I may become a fu||time hero like the Lee County EMTs and volun-
teer fire department rescue teams, who work full time jobs and sleep
with police scanners on their pillows. Maybe I'll become a law
enforcement officer. Join the D.N.R. Be a scoutmaster.
Suddenly my revery aborts as I realize I'm caught in a floodway
and boxed in by trees. I cut the power and the current takes us, bash-
ing us into a pine. The impact rolls Tony backward over me, dipping
the boat on its side as the force of the water wraps the bottom of the
boat around a tree. We both go under but manage to stay with the
boat because we fall upstream, the water pushing us against the
bottom. There's a loud crash as the current folds the boat around the
tree. I holler above the roar of the water and Tony answers. We find
ourselves hanging on a sunken jonboat wrapped around a loblolly
pine. Later we'll discover that at least five boats, including mine,
capsize during the Northampton rescue.
After a half hour our eyes adjust to the darkness and I'm able to
barely make out the hands of my watch. It's three-thirty. We're on the
downstream side of the tantalizing roofs of the Eller and Collins
homes. The only downstream structures above the raging water are
pine trees exactly the same size as the one that's tattooing Real Tree
camouflage on my belly and chest. We assess the situation.
The boat's sure to break in half or unwrap from the tree. We have no
flashlight now, no way to signal rescuers. The water is too rough for a
jonboatwe'd proved that. Rescuers can't hear us yell above the roar
of the water without cutting off their motor, and they can't cut off
their motor without being swept away. That's assuming a rescue boat
will come. 'Were screwed," 1 announce.
We talk. I'm worried about deer and bobcats trying to climb the
only flat structures above the water, which is our heads. Tony is
worried about snakes wrapping around our necks. Things bump
against our backs in the darkness, and we grunt, shudder, and moan.
"If a rattlesnake gets on you," I tell him, just duck under and wash
him off. The last thing a snake wants to do tonight is bite somebody."
We wait for animals to come swimming by two-by-two, but only fire
ants come. This torrent is one to wash the meanness out of every
living thing except fire ants. We worry about the water rising slowly
and pushing harder to get us off the pine tree. 1 worry about lions and
tigers swimming out of Chehaw Animal Park and wanting my tree.
I've developed a limited teleology. My attitude concerning the Flood
of the Century has become very specific. My microcosmic world view
at present consists of me, Tony, a few thousand ants, and a
'We're upstream from Chehaw," Tony says. "Anyway, 1 don't think
they have lions and tigers. They have an elephant."
"I'd like to see an elephant about now. Or a giraffe."
A rat scrambles on Tonyjs shoulder and perches like a parrot.
He knocks it off, quickly re-grabbing the tree.
Meanwhile, back at Chehaw, the elephant has gallumped to
higher ground. Melvin Young and Howard Craven have found Mr.
Charlie and two others stranded in a boat and rescued them. They've
cut the wire fence and let the deer out before the alligators can corral
a fawn they're interested in. They also saved a couple of wild-eyed
donkeys caught in a fence and wrapped a life vest around a llama's
neck and floated him to high ground. Of course, we dont know any of
this. If we had known, the immediacy and magnitude of our own
situation wouldn't allow us the luxury to give a damn. I'm slapping
pissants and mumbling prayers.
An hour before, we felt a lot of humanitarian concern for people
stranded on rooftops. Now, I'd swap out everything I own for a dry
shingle and a chimney to lean my back against. Wherever he is, Mr.
Tindell's in the catbird seat compared to us.
We are massaged by a cold water jacuzzi until our essential oils
leach out. Our buttocks have shriveled up like Sunmaid apricots.
Tony wants to hang on, and I'm psyching myself up for turning loose.
This may evidence one difference between a 22-year-old man with a
whole life ahead of him and a 52-year-old man who's drunk enough
whiskey and chased enough women anyway. Mature folks devel-
op a go-with-the-flow attitude, especially when they're wore slap
out from the flow. I figure a coronary infarction induced by
exhaustion from trying to straddle a bucking tree is inferior to a
wild ride on the Log Flume to Apalachee Bay.
Our amicable four-hour argument goes something like this:
"Pretend you paid a thousand dollars to shoot the Colorado
River and fell out of your raft," 1 tell Tony. "Just hold your feet
out in front of you, the first bump you feel will be the Flint River
power dam. When we see some lights on the right, swim
We can always turn loose later," Tony says. "The other res-
cuers know we disappeared around here. They'll find us sooner
or later, because my mamma wont let up on them until they do."
"I dont think I'm going to be able to hang on much longer."
"I'll hang on a week before I ride that whitewater through the
Muckalee swamp. Wed get tangled in limbs and whoa vines."
"When you get tangled, ball up and roll."
"The treesll beat us to death."
"This tree's beating me to death. Maybe we'll wash into a
better tree than this son-of-a-bitch. I've about wore the crotch
out of my britches riding this whipper-snapper."
"You're lucky to have britches," says Tony, whos wearing a
pair of Darton athletic shorts.
"You're lucky to have shoes."
"If we turn loose, well go over the power dam."
"It wont be much more than a bump if we do. The water
levels about the same below as above.
"Maybe after daylight they'll send a chopper. They know we
disappeared around here. What time is it now?"
And so forth.
We spend the night shifting positions, keeping our head
and shoulders above the water. We stay on the upstream side,
experimenting ways to alleviate the relentless force of the
current. At first we manage to keep in place because the rushing
water presses our bellies against the boat, creating a backwash,
but the water rises. We find new ways to cling to the tree, lacing
our arms and legs around the trunk and each other like Siamese
contortionists. We straddle the side of the boat, riding the
gunnels with our knees and clasping the tree with fingers, teeth,
and toenails. Finally, we have to stand, the water rushing
beneath our armpits. My bare feet cramp and I have to relieve
them by lifting one foot at a time while Tony holds me against
the tree. He offers me one of his shoes, but we can't figure any
way to swap without getting washed away.
We see the spotlights of rescuers, David Howell, Jackie
McCorkle, and others. We yodel, bleat, chirp, yip, and wail until
we're hoarse. We dont think they can hear us. Even if they kill
their outboard, they can't hear us over the roar of the rushing
water. "Behind the house!" we yell, "Behind the house!" I tear my
shirt off and try to wave it. We don't think they know where we
are, but they do. They just can't get into the Ellers' backyard
without joining us.
They wait until dawn, then tie to a tree and ease their boat
downstream towards us. We cheer them on like Auburn fans.
They toss us a line which we tie on our sacred pine. Tugging the
ropes and maneuvering with the outboard finally get them close
enough to pull us in over the transom of Charlie Haire's boat.
After rescuing us, our deliverers go after the Cowarts, whove
climbed from the flooded attic through a hole in the roof they
chopped with an ax.
I spent four and a half hours hanging on a pine tree with
Tony Sellars, who was twenty-two when we hit the water, about
forty the next morning. 1 didn't even know what he looked like
which ice lose we mourn
we have ever i
iwe in oam
until the sun came up, that glorious sun. The Redbone Rescue
team says I about balanced out the debits and credits in the
rescue business, i rescued about the same number of people it '
took to rescue me.
Landmarks and Memorials
If you're riding down Northampton Road and you see a pine
tree between Bobby and Joanne Collins' and Gary and Debbie
Eller's yards with the yellow meat showing, one that bob like it's
been turpentined, thats the tree Tony and I clawed the bark off
We both underwent profound attitude adjustments during our
arboreal interlude. When I got back on the bank, material things
were unimportant in my new ideology. 1 experienced a spiritual
epiphany and swore if I ever got out of that raging body of water,
euphemistically called the Muckalee Creek, Id never complain
about anything again. Id give everything that wasn't washed away
to the poor. I was walking on a cushion of air when I stepped out
of the rescue boat. The world was bathed in holy light.
You can get very spiritual hanging on a pine tree from three
o'clock until dawn. We learned that worldly possessions retarded
spiritual growth and restricted passage into the Kingdom of
Heaven, that even a backpack could make a pilgrim too bulky to
pass through the eye of a needle. Tony upped his pledge to the
church and swore to honor his father and mother. I swore to
honor his father and mother too if they raised enough hell to get
somebody sent after us. 1 pledged to give whatever worldly
possessions that hadn't been washed away to the poor and to
assign passing grades to all my students grandfathered back to
1969.1 even developed a Brahmanic love for the fire ants that
tormented me. How trivial and mean it was for me to deny them
the sustenance of my transitory blood and flesh.
Meanwhile, back on the swollen banb of the Kinchafoonee,
Claire is evacuating our house and dog-cussing me for not being
with the family during a time of crisis. Clarice is packing the flat-
ware, and flashing her daughter I-told-you-so facial expressions
she perfected during our wedding ceremony. I'm back in time to
catch the last carload out before the police close the Slappey
We sojourn to my in-laws' house, where I lie comatose for a
while, but after I've broken my fast with a half-dozen pork chops
and gotten four or five hours sleep, my epiphany starts fading and
I get to wanting some of my stuff back. I rise on one elbow from the
Castro Convertible. "Where my snake boots?" I ask Claire.
"I couldn't think of everything."
"You get my deer rifle out?
"What about my heart medicine."
You'd been-gone all night. I didn't know if you were coming
back? When you evacuate you stick to the bare essentials."
"Damn Claire, my pistol is bare essentials. We'll lose everything in
the flood and I wont even be able to rob a 7-Eleven."
I plunder through our belongings for a toothbrush and some dry
shoes. I find a five gallon bucket full of eye liner, lipstick, and eye
shadow, i rummage through three or four suitcases full of panties and
brasessentials. The only thing I can find of mine is a gray pair of
jockey shorts with.a stretched waistband.
In the tree, when I'd decided my spiritual life was encumbered by
material things, I meant things like lawn mowers, garden tools, and
hair dryers. Most of the material things I was willing to part with
actually belonged to Claire. Now, I didn't think I could be very
spiritual without a jonboat, a .243, and a graphite fly rod. I start
picturing all my neat stuff with transfigurative haloes and transcen-
dental wings, a plaintive telepathic voice like E.T.'s moans like a
"You can't get home," says Bill Kickiighter. "Slappey's closed off."
"Take me to the west side of Century Bridge, I say. "I'll get Charlie
Hardison or Monty Moody to send a rescue boat to ferry me across."
"No," says Kickiighter.
Century bridge is under, but there's a bulge in the surface made
by the railing. I inch along, holding the rail and sliding my front foot
forward feeling for potholes. Before the water gets deep, 1 can see fish
swimming over the asphalt. With a baseball bat I could stun enough
for a fish fry but they'd wash to Canuga before I could pick them up.
The water gets deeper and the railing runs out. I'm still too far to
yell for a boat. Ruptured mobile homes are washed from their founda-
tions. Just above the bridge, Billy Chambers' swamped house has
been mounted by another house. These gutted dwellings look like
extinct, rutting beasts. The water has climbed the hill nearly to the
Highway 19 intersection, and theres no dry land in sight downstream,
but I have faith my house is dry about a half mile downstream. I know
that some of my neighbors have refused to evacuate.
The water sweeping over Century Bridge is swift, about a class IV,
but tame compared to the water in Northamton. Still, as soon as 1
jump off the bridge I'm sorry I did. Expecting to take my time drifting
wu are on
downstream and working my way leisurely to the east bank, I find
myself bobbing like a cork down a whitewater flume that keeps kick-
ing me back into midstream. I jettison my shoes and shift from a
demure breaststroke into an earnest Australian crawl, nearly exhaust-
ing myself before I finally gain a swamped rooftop, where 1 lie gasp-
ing. I want to relax until my heart settles down, but 1 notice that the
volunteers have already launched a boat to rescue me. I know theyll
be mad and 1 don't want to face them, so 1 dive in and swim to dry
land. 1 climb to Sandybeach Road and circle behind some people on
the bank. 1 ask what the commotion is about.
"Some crazy sumtytch jumped off Century Bridge and drount!"
says a tall man in a baseball cap.
"He didn't jump," a woman insists, The fool dove."
"I|bet he's O.K.," I say, sneaking off.
"Hey, what you doing wet?"
I'm still dripping when Lee County rescue chief J.W. Cook knocks
on my door, visibly pissed. "I figured it was you, he says. "I told them
leaves, grinding his teeth. 1 realize that the water has crested beneath
my main floor and have an immediate onslaught of survivors guilt,
but there's nothing I can do stranded on the island of Sandybeach
Road. My neighbors and I plan a barbecue of venison I've salvaged
can walk on water, I'm dumbfounded that his psychokinesis can
support a Ford mini-van. "If you'd waited four hours instead of
shaking his head whenever he speaks to me. According to Clarice,
he picked it up about midway during the wedding ceremony.
Mike Roberts flies me over Mother's house in his Beechcraft
Duchess. From 3000 feet, I can see that the muddy Flint has flooded
my childish past. Radium Golf Course, where Bobby, Marvin, Buster
and I used to waterslide down fairways and over greens during lesser
floods, is now a strangely shaped lake of cloverleafs, medallions, and
lobes of ugly water. The Radium Casino, half submerged, looks like
the squat Monticello, on the back of a nickel. South Albany is a
Monopoly game interrupted by an overflow of bathroom plumbing.
A sprawling village of rooftops. Streets have become canals.
The Muckafoonee and Georgia Power dams detain no water.
At Warwick, the Crisp Dam spillway is submerged.
When the Liberty Expressway opens, I drive out to my home
place apprehensive. From Mike's airplane I'm sure I've seen the Flint
flowing into the dormers of the second story, but when 1 arrive, I find
to bring in the boat, that it was probably just you going home." J.W.
from my freezer. I'm still damp when suddenly my father-in-law, Carl
Leavy, drives up. Although Claire has tediously insisted her daddy
jumping off that bridge," he says, "You could have come down
Slappey Drive with me." Carl has this unconscious habit of slowly
Gary and Debbie Eller escaped with teenage daughters Daphne
and Tiffany, friends, and Aunt lanice by holding hands in a daisy chain
and playing red rover with neck-deep water to the road, where the
National Guard waited in a HEMMETT.
the rising water stopped at belly-button level on the plaster walls.
I'm amazed to discover that some antique furniture and most of the
porcelain can be salvaged. Miraculously, hardly any of the china is
broken. Cups and saucers have drifted and fluttered from room to
room and come to rest in the silt. It is as though the ghosts of
artisans and previous owners protected the stuff. Strange things have
happened here. An Eighteenth Century chest of drawers has fallen
over and is suspended over a stack of eggshell china saucers by a
silver pitcher. The dented pitcher supports the chest a paper thickness
above the saucers.
Ben and Kay Swilley show up with a truck while Mack, Michael,
Mark, Bob and John wander like apostles through the chocolate
custard mud, rooting for relics. Hope Campbelt, resplendent in
overalls and galoshes, culls furniture and sorts, disinfects, and boxes
porcelain in the front yard She stays up to her elbows in Clorox for
two days. She'll get dishpan hands but not bubonic plague.
Her hands, bleached to the wrists, look like surgical gloves. Lynn and
Richard Kennedy take the breakables home to wash and repack. I've
soaked my hands in enough hydrogen peroxide to loosen my nails.
Spending the night in the pine tree, i realize, didn't elevate me
to an absolute indifference for material things, but it numbed me
enough to walk without gnashing my teeth through mother's ruined
things. It's ironic that when I've decided to live more simply, winnow-
ing my earthly possessions to a rice bowl, a Woodall coffee mug, and
a Swiss army knife, I should become the curator of Mother's stuff,
which Claire has volunteered to warehouse in my living room.
God laughs at me as I tunnel through narrow cardboard corridors
between boxes of Spode, Haviland, and Rosenthal china, looking for
my mug. My house is packed with furniture my womenfolk won't even
let me sit in, and when I reach into the cabinet for the peanut butter,
exotic herbs and spices cascade upon my head.
A very old man with a chain saw wanders the rim of the
Chicasawhatchee swamp cutting gopher wood.
DNR's Gerald Henry rescues a gopher tortoise from a
At Chehaw a reluctant emu kicks the shit out of Dougherty
Sheriff's Deputy Eddie lackson during a heroic attempt to transport
the ostrich-like bird to higher ground.
A volunteer stringing floating coffins on a tree reports that a
casket burst through the surface like a blue marlin, it nearly torpe-
does his boat, trailing water high into the air. "That jack-in-the-box
come up out of there like a Polaris missile," he says. Indeed, over
two-hundred bodies flee eternal confines.
It's rumored that corpses hang like scarecrows from branches of
oak trees in south Albany. One, they say, in a Confederate uniform
was seen bobbing down Whispering Pines.
A lusty heterosexual couple is driven from a Baptist shelter for
fornicating (not dancing) behind the pulpit. Another is expelled for
copulating on a cot in the center of a crowded gym.
An irate woman complains that FEMA officials are acting in a
prejudicial manner, that they won't give her any money although the
water came very close to her home.
An increasing number of indolent refugees demand to be waited
onthat coffee and snacks be brought to their cots while their
children riot unchecked.
A healthy young man sits on his porch watching volunteers
sandbag his house.
A lonely man walks the high ground at Raintree Condominiums,
an automatic pistol strapped to his hip. While his neighbors weep
and wade among their ruins, hes anxious to shoot somebody bent on
stealing a waterlogged sofa, guarding past common sense against
looters who'd have to be dropped in by chopper or amphibiously
landed against the flotsam and jetsam of the tennis courts.
Richard Huggins of Huggins Outboard Marine deployed $15,000
worth of equipment to police and fire departments to aid the rescue
efforts in Lee, Dougherty , and Baker counties. Responding to the
shortage of rescue boats, FEMA bought 50 boats, motors, and trailers
from Perry Sports Center to give to the DNR.
Looters, fraudulent collectors for charity, con artists rub their
palms together. Some thieves with megaphones, before the present
danger of rising waters, impersonate authorities and order homeown-
ers to evacuate so they can burglarize houses. A growing number of
citizens, including me, feel that looters and con artists should be
denied due process.
One antipathetic shrew with a lavender beehive is overheard to
say while surveying the damage to Jamestown Apartments, "Just as
long as it doesn't get to Doublegate..."
An APD traffic cop approaches a woman leaning against a tree to
inform her the cemetary is a restrictive area. He discovers that she is
a disinterred cemetary resident.
Theres no rainbow in the blood-blister sky, just the iridescent
prism of an oil slick in a stagnant puddle, but a mottled dove limps
by with a sprig of kudzu, and fire ants, which will be here until the' 1
apocalypse, start building new beds. The waters recede, browning the
grass, the shrubs, the trees, with silt. The skeletons in our closets
have been washed out into the street. We've learned, will learn, what-
ever lessons there are in disaster, survival, and loss. We'll get a better
glimpse into our interior fabric and reckon what's to be discarded,
what restored. For me, a teacher too rapidly becoming jaded, I was
afforded the privilege of witnessing a young man come of age.
I emerged from a Northampton pine with renewed faith that the
moral fiber and the archaic and obsolescent male virtues of courage,
endurance, and sacrifice have not been bred entirely out of the
Homo-Sapiens gene pool. Tony's mamma should know that under the
most adverse circumstances and in the worst of company, her son
remains respectful, considerate, and brave.
If you ever get down on the human race, walk around southwest
Georgia during a natural disaster. I have faith that the good people of
southwest Georgia, like fire ants, possums, and cockroaches, will
somehow survive. They will remain unflappable even as experts warn
that underwater caverns will collapse when the waters recede, causing
suckholes in the earth. Suckholes! The media warn: "Now that you've
lost everything you own, the earth itself will open and swallow you
up, but don't panic." There's plenty of misery, plenty of loss, plenty of
despair. But don't panic.
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Three Days Up a Tree
by Becky Flanigan
"He was wired. That was Jacqueline McCorkle's reaction to her
interview with Eddie Manassi. lacquelihe, at 17 (the youngest member
of the Lee County Rescue Squad), took advantage of a few slow
moments during "flood fortnight" to interview a few of the residents at
the Philema Road Baptist Church Shelter. Eddie had just arrived after
three days and nights of being literally "up a tree."
Eddie arrived home Wednesday night around 11:30 P.M.
He sat down in the living room of his mobile home and soon realized
that water was starting to seep in.
In his charming accent: "When I see water coming in my house, I
try to get to car. I see water coming so quick, 1 can't go to car.
I come back in house. I sit in chair...
The water continued to rise.
"All the furniture start to be floating. I start to be scared.
1 put the chair on the table...finally I was scared to be in the
house...then the furniture start to fall apart...1 jump through the water."
The strength of the flood drove him out of his trailer.
He grabbed at one tree but was swept by.
f "I look at trailer going up and up. 1 was much scared,"
But he did catch a branch of a second tree he passed and spent
the remainder of thht night as well as the next two holding on for
"I stand like this for three days." He showed Jacqueline how he
stood; first on the balls, then the arches, then the-heels of his feet,
swollen along with his ankles and legs from numerous mosquito and
fire ant bites. Of the snakes and turtles that swam around his feet he
said, "It was a scary thing."
Finally, on Saturday around noon, after two helicopters had
passed overhead and failed to return, Eddie became desperate.
"I thought.if there is no hope in 30 minutes, 1 will jump,"
he told Jacqueline. And then he heard yelling.
"What in the hell are you doing here? were welcome words to
Eddie's ears. It was Mike and Scott Bruner and Alan Williams just
happening by in their boat, trying to determine the condition of their
parents' home. The elder Bruners were neighbors of Manassi.
They immediately delivered Eddie to rescue workers at Chehaw
Park, who took him first to the hospital and then to the shelter where,
after giving his story to Jacqueline, he spent the night.
To the shelter workers at Philema Baptist Church and to his
rescuers Eddie Manassi says, "1 thank them very much.
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1120 West Broad Avenue Albany, Georgia 31707 (912) 888-^b^