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'It looked like a mud bomb:' Montezuma remembers the Flood of '94

"It's an experience you look back on and hope it never happens again," says Dot Barker.

MONTEZUMA, Ga. — Montezuma had two catastrophic incidents happen during the Flood of 94 from Alberto that put their entire town underwater.

In some ways, the scars and the successes are still evident.

Today, Roy Yoder is a deputy emergency management director, but 25 years ago he worked as a firefighter.

"They ran boats up and down here. I was probably at this point knee-deep in water," he pointed out while standing in the street.

Little did he know the situation would get worse. The town is flanked by two water sources, Beaver Creek and the Flint River.

RELATED: 25 Years Later: Remembering the Flood of '94

"Beaver Creek flooded first. It came out on the north side of the levy along the CSX railroad track," Yoder explained. "Then the Flint flooded and that was the northern stuff and it came over the levee and filled up everything to capacity. If you look at the bridge that was covered with water, I don't know if it was on top of the railings, but I know the bridge was covered with water."

The muddy water infiltrated dozens of businesses including Joy Rawls' shop and the memories still haunt her.

"When we got to come back into the store a few days later after the water had receded, it was horrible. It looked like a mud bomb had gone off," she said. "It had a terrible smell and it was just mud splattered everywhere and they took a small Bobcat into the store and would just scoop up the clothing and anything we had. It was all over the floor."

Most people didn't have flood insurance.

"During that time there were over 67 businesses involved [and] 43 homes. People were left homeless [and] there were three churches destroyed," said Dot Barker with the Chamber of Commerce.

Barker still has mementos that marked the monumental time in Montezuma history, a turning point of sorts of what things look like today.

"It's been very tough. You know right after the flood it did try to come back. We reopened after months and months because they redid the sidewalks and had landscaping done, but it's never been the same as it was," Rawls said.

Only four businesses survived from that time, but one, Josie's Restaurant, is still suffering in some ways because the building is caving in. Sharon Oglesby owns and helps run the business.

"We're not sure but I have a suspicion that had a lot to do with it...with all the water that the town had over time I think it just caused a lot of problems," Oglesby said.

When the angry tide receded, Montezuma had the mammoth task of putting itself back together.  

They improved the levees, upgraded the pump station and decided to celebrate their resilient nature. 

"Let's have a Beaver Creek Festival, let's have a duck race to draw in tourists to draw in visitors to come and see where the flood level was," Barker said.

That duck race still happens today and although the now-docile Beaver Creek and Flint River showed their strength that fateful summer, Montezuma folks say they're stronger.

"We're thriving and trying and that's the key," Barker said with a smile.

Montezuma has seen new businesses move into the downtown area, including a bakery.

Another significant thing happened during that time in Montezuma -- the Southern Frozen Foods plant burned. It took firefighters two days to get it under control because they had logistical issues with getting trucks to the scene and pumping water on the fire.

Want to see more archive clips from 13WMAZ's continuous coverage of the Flood of '94? You'll find lots of video from the vault on the 13WMAZ YouTube channel.

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