Americus after the Flood - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Americus after the Flood

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July 13, 2004

Americus-- Twenty-four inches in 24 hours is a phrase that has become something of a mantra when you talk to people in Americus about the Flood of 1994.

The city was inundated with rain. While the monetary loss due to the flash flooding was in the millions, it's the loss of people that haunt those who survived.

Enter Americus on U.S. 19 and travelers cross one of many bridges to get to the heart of the city. Ten years ago, this very bridge was impassable.

"We had roads all over town that the creek waters just came through and washed the road away." When describing the scene, people, like City Administrator Charlotte Cotton, like to say Americus was an island-- and it was.

Every major road into the city was covered by water. The Muckaleee Creek that flows under the U.S. 19 Bridge is docile now, but relentless rains forced the water to cover the banks, rising to record levels. The city lost power. Overall, FEMA gave the county nearly 15 million dollars in relief.

"We worked without any help or a whole lot of sleep for 60 hours," says Fire Chief Steve Marino. Starting just after midnight July 5th, emergency calls began to flood dispatch. There were reports of people getting washed away. 15 people died that night.

Chief Marino says, "The recovery process is not a tasteful thing. You see faces in inordinate ways that stay with you today, it's not just then, but they stay with you forever, I think."

"Tomika? She was 20 years old. She was an early childhood major enrolled at GSW, and that summer she decided not to go to summer school, she would just work, " says mother Carolyn Hamilton.

Tomika Woodham had gotten off her job at Burger King. After work she went to visit her boyfriend. Hamilton says, "He tried to get her not to leave, to wait until the weather got better, but she told him no, she had to get home."

Woodham drove down Sun Valley Road toward Highway 280. At the bridge, a wall of water slapped her car, forcing it off the road into the ditch. Tomika was one of the first victims of the raging waters.

Carolyn says, "And you know you go in your mind, she is in the car and she is trapped and she can't get out and you go through your mind, she is trying to get someone to help her and I can't help her, no one else can help her."

The heroes and the survivors come together, "Even though it was ten years ago it seems like yesterday, " says Americus Mayor Bill McGowan. It's a simple ceremony commemorating the ten year anniversary of the flood.

The names of those who died that night are read one by one, etched forever on a marker downtown. Their names are also etched forever on the hearts of those who survived.

Carolyn Hamilton says the birth of her first grandson, just a few months after her daughter died in the flood, helped her to move on.

After the flood, six firefighters left the force, citing post traumatic stress.

The city's emergency plan is being constantly updated as a result of the flood. But, no new levees or dams have been built to guard against from future flooding.

Posted at 4:20 p.m. by melissa.kill@walb.com