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20-year anniversary: Albany remembers flood tragedy

By Sgt. Candice Clark | | August 28, 2014

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July marked the 20th Remembrance of the 1994 Flood that submerged Albany, Georgia, and local residents remember and describe the tragedy like it occurred yesterday.

Members of the Public Affairs Office, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, recently toured the Flood of Memories exhibit at Thronateeska Heritage Center in Albany, Georgia.

The exhibit is free and open to the public.

According to an article in The Emblem dated July 8, 1994, the flood resulted from the predicted Tropical Storm Alberto, which turned into a tropical depression.

The results of the storm left Albany in displacement, loss and devastation, according to Verda L. Parker, public affairs specialist, Public Affairs Office, Operations and Training Division, MCLB Albany.

Parker, a longtime Albany resident, was directly affected by it. She described the depth of the flood waters.

“Buildings were totally submerged up to the roof tops,” Parker said. “It gave you a reality check and a wake-up call because you can hear about it, but until you see it, you have no idea the magnitude.”

At the time of the flood, Parker was working at Albany State University as a program coordinator in the History and Political Science Department. Her office on the third floor faced the Flint River. Parker expressed that the extent of the flood was unexpected.

“The building that I worked in was three stories high, so we thought the water would just come over and maybe cover the first floor,” she said. “As it turned out, it went all the way to the second floor. There was no drill that could have prepared us for what happened.”

The aftermath of the flood is still vivid in Parker’s mind.

“When I walked into the building for the first time after the water had receded, the stairwell was extremely dark; we had only the illumination from our flashlights,” she explained. “As we slowly made our way up to the third floor, some of the stairs were still damp and slimy, while others had left-over dried, cracked mud. The odor was a fishy, swamp-like smell, which is still in my memory today.”

Many more experiences and stories such as these of the flood can be found at the Flood of Memories exhibit.

“The Flood of Memories exhibit was created in remembrance of the 1994 flood, also known as the 500-year flood,” Lisa Lofton, program coordinator, Thronateeska Heritage Center in Albany, Georgia, said. “It is called the 500-year flood because it is a flood that is predicted to only occur once every 500 years, so we wanted to commemorate it and acknowledge it. It’s not the best of memories, but we still wanted to remember a time that we survived.

“The flood touched so many lives and the tourists have a personal connection to it,” she added. “Even if you weren’t there, sometimes it’s the pictures more than words that tell the story and emphasize the situation to put yourself there. ‘A picture tells a thousand words.’”

The exhibit may also be sentimental to the Thronateeska Heritage Center because its building was affected by the 1994 flood along with many other facilities downtown, Lofton noted.

“When the river flooded, it filled the heritage center basement,” she said. “Two buildings were flooded, but now because of the reconstruction of this building, we are above flood-level stage here.”

Colie Young, public affairs officer, MCLB Albany, shared his memories of the 500-year flood.

“I distinctly remember the huge impact the Marines from the base had as it relates to helping this community deal with that disaster,” Young said. “There are many stories being told about the tragedy, but it’s important not to lose sight that our Marines played an instrumental role with the saving of the Albany James H. Gray Sr. Civic Center. In fine Marine fashion, they created a human chain and passed and placed sandbags in front of the Civic Center, saving it from the waters.”

A Chronology of U.S. Marine Corps Humanitarian Assistance and Peace Operations, by Adam B. Siegel, Center for Naval Analyses, Alexandria, Virginia, cites more historical accounts of Marines assisting the city of Albany: “Amidst major flooding, Marines from Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia, aided disaster relief efforts. This included rescuing 1,700 people stranded by the floods and providing support to the Georgia National Guard and local agencies.”

The 1994 flood might have been a terrible experience for most, but in spite of it, there were some good values that came from it, Parker pointed out.

“In spite of the devastation, in spite of the loss, in spite of the time that we lost, we became more closely united,” she said.  “Physically we were displaced, but it kind of bonded us closer. Even now Albany State has earned the name ‘the unsinkable Albany State.’”

Those interested in viewing The Flood of Memories exhibit at Thronateeska Heritage Center may do so now until Sept. 13. It is located at 100 W. Roosevelt Avenue, Albany, Georgia.

For more information, call 229-432-6955 or view the website, www.heritagecenter.org.
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