Originally created 08/31/97

Bill Kirby: Flooding no longer big danger



On this holiday weekend, you might get a chance to visit or revisit Augusta's Riverwalk.

For me, it's one of those places that just sort of strikes you every time you see it. It's so pretty. And the Savannah River does much to make it so.

You look out on that peaceful water on a quiet August afternoon and you wonder: Why did it take us until almost the end of the 20th century to capitalize on this riverfront view?

The answer, of course, is that for much of its history the slowly meandering Savannah River was not a peaceful tributary tamed by upstream dams.

It was a big river prone to flooding. And when it did, downtown Augusta was in the way.

This was often the time of year to be wary and 89 years ago this week is a good example.

"Death and Disaster Reports Pour in, List of Fatalities Will Reach Fifty," read the huge headline taking up the top half of the front page of The Chronicle on Aug. 28, 1908.

The issue (labeled a Flood Edition) contained 15 front-page stories about the flooding, including a call from Mayor W.M. Dunbar to attend a mass meeting to deal with the calamity.

Disaster was everywhere. Bridges washed away, drowning victims kept turning up, mills were destroyed. It was a bad time.

Many of those historic photos you see of Augustans making sport of Broad Street's flooding come from the 1908 drenching.

Maybe it was a late summer phenomenon because 145 years ago today Augustans were weathering one of those all too common floods they called freshets.

The Aug. 31, 1852, issue of The Chronicle reports, "The river continued to rise rapidly during the night and did not reach its maximum height until Sunday morning.

"It is impossible now to estimate the damage done to the streets and city with any degree of accuracy.

"Of course in such a calamity there were many hairbreadth escapes from drowning, and many touching, thrilling incidents - deeds of noble daring in the rescue of women and children."

(Today we might want to read about these thrilling rescues, but the reporters of those times seemed more reluctant to be so personal.)

Our town was also cut off from the world, the paper reported.

"The mails have been so out of joint for the last three days, that we are not advised of the effects of the recent rains upon the other rivers in the state. We fear it has been equally disastrous as in the Savannah, as we are informed that the railroad bridge across the Ocmuglee at Macon has also been carried away."

Of course, all that changed in 1935 (in August, no less) when civic leaders proposed a dam up river that would control the river.

The rest, as they say, is history - calm, casual, no-more-flooding, boring history.

Something nice to enjoy on a holiday weekend.