The flood of ‘94: Readers’ remembrances
At first, the rain that began falling across Middle Georgia on July 4, 1994, was simply an annoyance that brought many a Fourth of July gathering indoors.
By the time the rain ended later that week, rivers, creeks and lakes could not contain the torrents. The water’s power wiped out homes, businesses, roads, bridges and more. Interstate systems shut down, as did Macon’s water plant. Cities and towns were cut off.
Still, amid the adversity, Middle Georgia residents found ways to cope.
When The Telegraph asked readers for what they remembered most about those trying days, we received more than 100 responses. They described hardships off all kinds, but they also showed residents’ fortitude, perseverance, creativity and a spirit of cooperation in the face of great challenges.
Here’s a sample of the notes we received:
Our first child, Sarah Kate Pospisil, was born the morning of July 5, 1994. We lived on Huntington Place off Lokchapee in Macon. I wasn’t due for another week, but of course my water broke early morning on (that) Tuesday. My husband was a young captain at Robins, so he called the base hospital and told them we were coming in. It took us what seemed like forever to get to the base, so long that the hospital had gotten so worried about us that they were minutes away from dispatching a military vehicle to go look for us. The bridge must have failed right after we went through, because they couldn’t believe it when we finally showed up. Once she was born, we couldn’t get home! I had to stay in the hospital longer than planned as we had no way of getting home. Once we did, area residents and businesses supplied us with fresh water and meals. The Southern hospitality that was bestowed upon us really resonated with us, and when given the chance to move back in 2007, we didn’t hesitate for even a minute. We now call Warner Robins our home 20 years later!
-- Kristin Pospisil, Warner Robins
I will never forget my surprise when the CBS national news aired and said they were broadcasting live from Macon, Georgia. Dan Rather said Macon, Georgia! They were broadcasting from the Kmart parking lot, now Hutchings Career Center on Riverside Drive. Huge water tanks were set up there, giving people free water. ... I remember my mom letting me walk out with my cousin Dexter to I-75 at Arkwright. We walked right up the middle of the Interstate. It was quiet, desolate, not one car.
-- Teresa Southern
I realized the severity of this flood when I saw caskets that had been pushed up out the ground by so much water floating down the Ocmulgee River at Hawkinsville.
-- George Scoville
I was vacationing in Alaska and heard about (the flooding) on CBS with a live telecast from WMAZ. Then the Anchorage newspaper (The Anchorage Daily News) had a shot of I-75 on the front page (of July 7, 1994). I was about to fly back to Atlanta but then realized that the interstate was closed and I would have to spend the night at the airport.
-- Dennis McCleary, Macon
My wife and I were married on the weekend of the flood. She lived in Juliette and I in Flat Rock in Putnam County. On Wednesday night of flood week, my church, Victory Baptist, had a shower for Linda, but due to the bridges being closed around Juliette, she couldn’t get there. Well, guess who had to sit in the fellowship hall with all those ladies? ME. I was definitely out of my element. I had to open all the gifts and pack up everything in the rain. Our wedding was on Saturday, July 9, which was beautiful but terribly hot. My dad, who was living then, said if we have to rent a helicopter, we’ll get her here. Linda had to drive up I-75 to McDonough to get across the river to come to Milledgeville. We celebrate 20 years this July 9.
-- Sid Newsome
I hope I never scare my mom as bad as I did during the flood. It all started when my mom allowed me to go to a Whitney Houston concert in Atlanta with my friends. The rain had already started when we left town, ... (but) I didn’t know how much water was building up in Macon. The concert was great. The ride home was uneventful until we reached the Hartley Bridge Road exit. I was asleep in the back seat of my friend’s sporty Geo Storm. I woke up to the sounds of my friends screaming. We had just rear ended a stopped 18-wheeler. The car was crushed up to the windshield. We were lucky to be alive. The front passenger and I were transported to the Medical Center, where we were checked for injuries. I knew my mom would receive the middle-of-the-night call all parents dread, permission for me to be treated. My only aliment was broken glasses. The front passenger had injuries that included a big bruise on her collarbone from the seat belt. We soon learned that all roads from Macon to Warner Robins had been closed. My aunt got to the hospital and took us to my grandmother’s, who lived in Macon. After a week my cousin was able to rescue us and take us back to Warner Robins.
-- Kelly Odom
We were living in Macon at the time in Wesleyan Corners apartments on Wesleyan Drive. After several days of rain, as I was driving that morning to work in Forsyth on Old Forsyth Road leading up to Bass Road, ankle-deep water was pouring over the roadway, and I thought, wow, it has really come down. I got on I-75 at Bass Road and went on to work in Forsyth. About 11 a.m., someone came into my office and said “you better head home; they’re closing I-75 in Henry County, and you might not be able to get home later on.” As I drove home on I-75, there was no traffic coming either way and I was the only vehicle on the road. Talk about an eerie feeling. I thought perhaps the end time had come and I had not been called up with the rest of the saints! ... Ever since that time my husband still will not drink water from the tap and continues to purchase bottled, distilled water for his drinking water.
-- Marion McDougall, Forsyth
It was raining a steady, light rain the morning of July 5 as I drove to work at the Warner Robins Police Department.
About 8 a.m., the rain became quite heavy as I was standing at the window looking out at the parking lot in front of the building. It seemed there was an unusually large amount of water, more than I ever remembered seeing accumulating and running across the pavement.
I decided to take a drive around town and check a few locations that I knew could be prone to light flooding during heavy rains. I was surprised at what I found -- more water than I had ever seen in that short time flowing through the city.
I immediately returned to the station and called an emergency meeting of the department commanders and supervisors. Assignments were handed out and emergency action was put into motion. By 10:30 a.m., the department was responding to calls for help from people who were being threatened by rising water. The 5th Mob at Robins AFB responded to our request for help with a number of large trucks. Evacuations were begun.
All drainage ditches in the city were overflowing, and the Bay Gall Creek bed was quickly turning into a raging river, which led to the closing of Watson Boulevard and many of the streets that crossed over the creek bed. The Houston County EMS had their hands full in the middle to lower portion of the county. We were pretty much on our own.
The men and women of the police department did a fantastic job. Many people were rescued from the rising water, and there was a minimum of injuries and no loss of life. The officers worked through the day and into the evening hours before the rains began to subside. All emergency operations for the PD went into stand-down mode about midnight. Everyone except the night shift finally was able to return home. Wet and tired, but satisfied that they had answered the call and performed in stellar fashion.
-- Dan Hart
Our daughter-in-law Judy Williams was due to deliver a baby girl at any time. ... We were isolated. We could not travel out of our area because of the flood. That’s the bad part. We have a fire station in the area. I called and asked the fireman that answered the phone if they could deliver a baby. The answer was “if we have to.” On July 16, (Interstate) 75 into Macon was opened to emergency traffic. Judy called and said “it is time.” My wife ... took Judy to the Coliseum Hospital. The delivery went fine. Later that evening, I was able to go to the hospital to see our new granddaughter, Kalie Elizabeth. When I walked into the hospital room there was a 30-gallon trash can sitting near Judy’s bed. I said, “What is this doing in your room?” Judy answered, “We have to dip water out of it to flush the commode in the bathroom. Judy answered, “PaPa, the hospital does not have water either.”
-- R. Earl Williams
Our parents lost both cars, which sank and were covered by water and totaled. They lost all the furniture and escaped by forming a chain of people with water up to the necks.
-- Bufore and Lucile Allen
Bill and I shared a small cabin at Lake Sinclair with Tommy and Betty Talbot in ‘94, so when we lost water in Macon, we moved up there. The guys would drive back and forth to work every day, and we stayed at the lake. We had lots of friends and relatives who visited to do their wash until our septic tank backed up. It was quite a party! Our son Mac was getting married that summer, so we were all happy to get to South Carolina, and so were lots of our friends.
-- Fran Matthews
In July 1994, I was working for DFCS at Allen Chapel in Pleasant Hill. I borrowed a truck ... to deliver water. I was en route to a meeting when the truck broke down. I had hauled so much water that the transmission had to be replaced. ... The next week, all the shelves in the food pantry at Allen Chapel collapsed because of the large amount of food that was donated. My husband and I rebuilt the shelves at night after we delivered water. We bathed in our swimming pool and ate at Shoney’s in Forsyth. In August, all was well and we were going on a get-away vacation to St. George Island. We were stranded on the island because of another tropical storm and lived on peaches and tomato sandwiches for three days.
-- June O’Neal, Macon
I was playing music full time with Gypsy Train. The band was home playing at Texas Cattle Co. on Riverside Drive when word went out that (former mayor) Tommy Olmstead was going to call for a citywide curfew at 11 p.m. that night. The place was packed, so we played anyway but made sure to shut down by the curfew. After the show, I drove around town out of curiosity. The interstate in a panic in the Rocky Creek Road area. Water had begun to rise, and I barely made it through the 2 feet of water that had collected under the Rocky Creek underpass. All traffic rules had been abandoned, with cars trying to get off the interstate, going every which way and backward up the on-ramps. It was mayhem. The next morning I ran into photographer Ken Krakow at the top of the Johnston and Bond monuments in Rose Hill, and we watched the river come up to the first steps of the stairway between the two monuments. The railroad track was underwater and railroad ties were being swept down the Ocmulgee, which was moving unbelievably fast. I had an eerie experience sitting in the window of my apartment above the old Western Union block across the street from the Terminal Station the following night, as prison work crews were filling and stacking sandbags to shore up the banks of the river. All night long, I listened to the prison crews singing and chanting as they worked. It sounded like a 1920s chain gang.
-- Rob Sumowski
My brother Kelly and I had been attending a convention in Atlanta. We waited to leave when we thought it was safe. He brought me to Warner Robins and was heading home to Orlando, Florida. An hour or so (later) I looked up and he had returned. He said there was no road open to Florida, so he visited another couple of days.
-- Barbara Shaheen, Warner Robins
Thanks to my neighbors’ swimming pool, we had toilet-flushing water and our drinking and cooking water was available in gallon jugs at the fire stations, but what were we to do about bathing? Well, with necessity being the mother of invention, I invented a hot shower.
First, I obtained a 3-foot length of 3/8-inch rubber hose, a full gallon jug of water, a paper clip, some electrical tape and a wire coat hanger. The coat hanger was bent around the shower head pipe in the shape of a hook to hold the full water jug that had been heated in the microwave to a comfortable temperature. The paper clip was bent in the shape of a hook and taped to the hose in order to keep one end of the hose in the jug. With the paper-clipped end of the hose placed in the jug, a slight sucking on the opposite end of the hose brought forth refreshing warm water. Once the body and a wash rag were wet, the loose end of the tube was placed into the jug until bathing was complete. The already primed tube was then removed and the body was rinsed. If careful, the entire bathing process could be accomplished with only one gallon of water. However, hair washing for the ladies took an extra half-gallon.
-- Charles Wolf
My family was blessed with a deep well, where we got all of our water. A darling young friend, Tracy Matthews, was marrying that weekend with a large reception at Idle Hour Club. The club, of course, had closed for lack of water. I telephoned Peggy Jones, then social manager of the club, and told her that we would be happy to have the reception at our house if the club would furnish the food and drinks. By the time I reached Peggy, she had arranged for a caterer from Athens to come in kitchen trucks and cater from outside at the club, as the bathrooms there were beginning to function. However, the bride, groom and family came before the wedding and showered at our house! Because I felt so blessed to have water, I volunteered and helped give out jugs of water at Kmart. The volunteers were white, black, rich, poor, young, and old. There was great cooperation and camaraderie among us. And every person who drove up for water thanked us! A very positive side of Macon.
-- Dallis J. Jones
My husband and I had been married just shy of eight months and had bought our first home. It was a little cracker-box house on Kingsley Drive, a straight walk down Corbin Avenue to Riverside Drive. I recall that the flood brought out the best in us: water stations were set up down at the old Kmart parking lot on Riverside where National Guardsmen distributed water from their trucks. People would go down there and fill up their empty milk jugs every other day or so for themselves and for elderly neighbors and friends. I remember watching the news and waiting to hear the latest report from Liz Jarvis Fabian. People looked out for one another and demonstrated their best patience and generosity. My husband and I walked down Corbin to watch security and rescue personnel canoe and boat up Riverside Drive to help people. I remember feeling such a sense of community as we came together through adversity.
-- Amy Elton
My father was Lt. Tim James of the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department. He was the fireman that turned over in the river on ... TV as Liz Jarvis (Fabian) was on the air live. That was a very scary moment for our entire family as we watched our father fall into the water and be trapped under the bridge. Later, we saw him emerge and lodge in an elm tree 40 yards from the bank. My father died this year, on Feb. 12, after a long battle with colon cancer. But that day in 1994 will live forever in my memory of my dad’s fight for his life in the raging Ocmulgee River. My dad loved serving the people of Macon and he did so as a firefighter for 30 years in this wonderful town. He saved many people in his career, and many people will remember him for the kind words he had for everyone.
-- Tim James