Flood of 1994 tested government leaders - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Flood of 1994 tested government leaders

July 11, 2004

Albany -- Ten years ago all eyes and ears were on them. Thousands of the South Georgians left homeless and confused by the flood of '94 looked to members of the government for help. We take a look back with one of Albany's most visible leaders during the flood.

Calm, controlled waters flow in the fountain outside of the Albany's Government Center. These  waters  are a far cry from those that tested the strength of South Georgia leaders in 1994.

"The engineering department called the city manager Roy Lane and let him know that we were expecting, perhaps a little flooding to happen in the upcoming days," says Janice Allen Jackson, city manager for the city of Albany.

And little did then-assistant city manager Janice Allen Jackson know, that was the only warning she and many other leaders would have before the waters started to roll in.

Officials had to act quickly, activating emergency flood plans, that in many areas, had never been tested. The first big challenge would be evacuating thousands of citizens who didn't take the threat of rising water seriously.

But as the water rose waist high, law enforcement and firefighters became the life blood of the government's operation. People had to be guided to safety. Flood waters closed 175 roads in 30 counties. Communication between counties, officials and citizens became key to keeping everyones head above water.

"Police and the fire department really had to take on that public safety role in terms of saving lives and they did an excellent job.They physically lifted people out of harms way," says Jackson.

But the next move was not always clear, even for the people leading the way. Everyday brought new challenges where to house people pouring into crowded shelters or how to distribute the helping arriving daily. In Albany, the Courthouse was the control center where officials brainstormed their next move.

"We had to make decisions on how to handle things right there on the spot ," says Jackson.

President Bill Clinton flew into Albany and declared it a Federal Disaster Area. He reassured citizens money to rebuild was on the way. And they would need it a lot of it. The flood caused more than $500 million in damage.

Saying how he lost it all Disaster Assistance Centers, called DACs were set up to help people and business owners who lost everything.

"The biggest lesson I learned was if you keep people informed to the best of your knowledge you will be ok," says Jackson

Lessons learned by fire, or in this case flood, that led government leaders to update flood maps and improved disasters plans.

 In Albany an emergency control center was built. But if there was a gift the flood left behind it was the federal money that helped many who lost everything become homeowners.

"Those same folks are able to say I have fully recovered and I have been able to recover nicely."

Recovery through one of most uncertain times for those choosen to lead through the flood of 1994.

posted at 8:36PM byscott.hunter@walb.com