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A deluge and a flood of memories

By Walter Geiger It was Independence Day weekend in 1994 when the Tropical Storm Alberto stalled out over central Georgia and dropped an average of 25 inches of rain over a vast area. On the evening of July 5, 1994, city manager Kenny Roberts told an emergency called meeting of the city council, ‘The worst has happened. The dam is gone.’ In fact, according to Geraldine Pippin of County Line Farm, every dam not built to Soil Conservation Service standards failed. The SCS watershed flood control system worked as designed or things would have been much worse. SCS is now the Natural Resources Conservation Service. District conservationist Carmen Westerfield was new to the local district at the time. She and Carol Oliver of her staff worked flood cases through 1997. According to then-mayor Jimmy Matthews, Barnesville had two things going for it. The first was a complete set of plans for a replacement for the 32-year-old earthen dam structure Alberto breeched. ‘We had planned ahead and it paid off. All we had to do was get EPD to rubber stamp the plans and we were ready to rebuild,’ he said. The other asset, according to Matthews, was Roberts himself. ’He never raised his voice. He quietly talked to each employee and said ‘˜I want you to do this’. He pretty much made all the right moves,’ Matthews said. By 8 a.m. Friday a temporary dam was in place and the municipal water supply was saved. Jean and Charles Dukes had been bicycling in England. As they boarded a Delta jet for home, someone handed them a copy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. ‘There on the front page was the story of the breeching of the reservoir dam and Kenny Roberts saving the day,’ Jean remembered. At The Herald Gazette office on Greenwood Street, five feet of water roiled down the roadway as the storm water drainage system was overmatched. Lynnell Harris and her late husband, Jack, were living at the corner of Hwy. 18 and Cannafax Road where they had a pond. They measured 25 inches of rain which swelled the pond to the point water rose to the bottom of their back door but never came inside. When it receded, Jack had to pick up dead fish out of the pasture due to the smell. A boat in the pond sank. After two weeks it was retrieved using a tractor and chain. Bob Wright recalls that his sons were at Camp Thunder which sits along the banks of the Flint River which was swollen well beyond flood stage. He and his wife, Patti, tried to rescue the boys but could not get to them. ’The boys took up ‘˜durfing’ which amounted to sliding down muddy hills on sheets of cardboard. Our son Bobby swam to (Camp Thunder benefactor) Gerald Lawhorn’s cabin and rescued all his Star Wars videos before the cabin was washed away by the flood,’ Bob said. He also recalled traveling to the site of the ruined city reservoir with the late Dewaine Bell, delivering water and seeing the damage wrought there by Alberto. The rains eventually abated and the community, which was declared a disaster area, dried out. Miraculously, there were no injuries or deaths. There was, however, a wealth of mold and mildew to be cleaned and detour signs dotted many roads for months – and, in some cases – years afterward. It was the 100-year flood that still triggers a flood of memories. Share your memories or experiences by calling The Herald Gazette at 770-358-NEWS or e-mail

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