Digging Deeper: Oakview and Riverside flooding remembered
A human skull recently discovered not far from Albany's Oakview and Riverside Cemeteries have some people questioning whether it was unearthed in the flood of 1994.
More than 400 caskets came out of the ground when 10 to 15 feet of flood water engulfed the cemeteries.
Many bodies were never recovered, others were never identified.
It was the second worst cemetery disaster in the United States. Hundreds of caskets unearthed when the flood waters in 1994 rushed in. Many vaults were knocked off their foundations.
"We actually had to go get a court order to take the caskets out, took them out reset the vaults and put the lid back on," said Wes Smith, Albany Assistant City Manager.
Until flood waters receded, caskets were tied to the cemetery fence but they weren't modern caskets like we have today and the reality is many disintegrated.
"They were built out of material that would rot and disintegrate so quite naturally they didn't secure as well as the modern day casket that we have," said James Griffin FR. Poteat Funeral Home .
"There were crews that actually went out and scoured south of here went through the woods and some of the areas and some were deposited very openly and that had to be cleaned up found, identified, and that sort of thing," said Smith.
Wes Smith who worked in city engineering back then showed us the graves of remains never identified.
"Behind me you can see approximately 96, that were never identified and this area was created to honor those," said Smith.
In the Jewish section of Oakview Cemetery where a sink hole opened up and swallowed tombstones and caskets that were never recovered. The area was refilled twice.
"The original fill failed and a couple of years later we came back and pumped cement-type grout until we filled and then repaired and replaced this entire area," said Smith
James Griffin Junior helped carry the recovered remains to a secure location on the Marine Base where they could be identified and put into new caskets.
"You were working under duress and it was chaotic," said Griffin.
Without the help of many funeral service professional nationwide, he says Albany couldn't have made it through.
"It took several months for us to do it and we were not in a rush about meeting a deadline," said Griffin.
City officials used plot maps and talked to as many families as they could to restore the cemetery to its original look and spent easily more than a million dollars doing it because it was the right thing to do.
Just during the first two days of rescue operations, 204 caskets and bodies were retrieved, some as far south as Newton.
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