Remembering the flood of 1994Published 7:23pm Friday, July 11, 2014
July 1994 saw a much different climate in Southwest Georgia and northern Florida than that of 2014.
Described by all as “the year of the big flood,” it was a time when businesses and homeowners moved everything to higher ground in anticipation of the pending floodwaters headed this way from the Americus, Albany and Newton area that experienced 24 inches of rainfall in a 20-hour period.
The Saturday, July 9, 1994 edition of The Post-Searchlight predicted the Flint River would crest at 45 feet, nearly five feet higher than the 40.9 foot crest in the 1925 flood. The area west of the river was warned to expect heavy flooding.
Door-to-door notification to residents and businesses in those areas believed to be the most threatened began on Friday, July 8, and immediately the streets were jammed with people moving household goods and headed to the stores to purchase staples, especially bottled water.
An interesting notice was published on the front page of The Post-Searchlight stating that beginning with the next issue, scheduled for Wed., July 13, and continuing until the flood danger was over, most subscriptions of the paper would be delivered by U.S. Mail.
Postmaster Cliff Holmes and mailing Superintendent Sam Jones pledged they would “deliver right up to the water’s edge.”
Today, all subscribers receive their papers by U.S. Mail.
Tommy Dollar and Robert Cohen, of Dollar Farm Products, recall the impact the flood had on businesses in West Bainbridge.
Dollar said his daddy, Hubert Dollar and Lloyd Poitevint of FRM and Southeastern Chemicals, had remained calm until the survey crew came through putting up flags predicting flood water levels of four to five feet above the railroad tracks and water up to the windows in the old office.
They had been made aware of the severe flooding to the north by the news, and Dollar had the opportunity to fly over Newton, where he saw the water at least five feet over the catfish ponds and floodwaters two miles wide in some places.
Dollar said they had about three days notice before it hit Bainbridge.
Dollar and Cohen remember they moved everything they could to a warehouse at the airport. This included all feed, fertilizer, chemicals, rolling stock and what they described as “50 to 70 years of accumulated stuff.” It took three days and nights to accomplish it.
The dire predictions caused panic to set in with the homeowners in the Lake Douglas area, according to Dollar.
He described the situation as “severe and in chaos.”
Everyone was scared and emptying the contents of their houses into large semi-trailers. The Red Cross set up a relief station at Decatur Gin to assist those who were victims of the flood.
As far as the businesses went, “It had a dramatic and traumatic effect on all of our West Bainbridge businesses,” they said, adding that they lost a lot of momentum at Dollar Farm Products that lasted for at least a month. The railroad was washed out for a while and they couldn’t move product.
On the plus side, the two men say they lucked out, because it wasn’t as bad as predicted in those areas. The two men say the slough saved a large portion of Decatur County, as the waters spread out and dissipated. Another plus was how it brought people together as neighbors helped neighbors.
Local veterinarian Dr. Eddie Hight, a resident in the Lake Douglas area, recalled he and his neighbors packed up and moved everything from their homes after being told they would be flooded.
He and his family moved to his mother-in-law’s residence.
They even took precautions at the veterinary clinic located on East Shotwell Street after they were warned that the water would rise inside to the countertops.
“We raised everything as high as we could, moved others and disconnected things such as the X-ray machine, which we couldn’t move,” Hight said. “We also relocated all the animals. Then, nothing happened. We didn’t have any water.”
He credits the slough with saving that area.
However, not all areas of Decatur County were that lucky.
Many homes in the Flint River Heights area were flooded.
An article in The Post-Searchlight highlighted the Flint River home of Ken and Cindy Markham and told how Markham recalled being upset two years prior to the flood when First Federal Savings and Loan said he had to purchase flood insurance. As seven inches of water from the continually rising Flint flowed through his home, he expressed his extreme thankfulness they convinced him to purchase the insurance.
Other news items reported that concerned relatives had even sandbagged the graves of their loved ones at Oak City Cemetery.
The National Guard came to town, as did Governor Zell Miller. It was reported that then President Bill Clinton came to Albany to meet with Gov. Miller as well as Florida Governor Lawton Chiles to view the flood stricken areas of the Southeast.
Stories of sacrifice and bravery were also reported. Four shelters were set up in schools and churches in the city and victims were helped by the Salvation Army as well as the Red Cross. The community came together to shelter and feed one another, many even taking displaced families into their homes to stay.
Downriver where the Flint and the Chattahoochee come together, folks were very hard hit.
Robert Turner, editor of the Blountstown News, said where the two rivers merged at the Jim Woodruff Dam in Chattahoochee forced the Apalachicola River to quickly reach flood stage. It crested at 28.39 feet, and the Chipola River west of Blountstown reached 30.4 feet, affecting over 200 homes and more than 600 residents.
Blountstown Police answered over 1000 calls for assistance, and National Guard units were deployed to rescue persons from the rapidly rising waters.