A year after flood, downtowners reflect

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 12, 2007

A year ago this week, Susan Story, education and family services coordinator/branch manager for the Franklin Alzheimer’s Association, returned to the office on Bogart Street to assess the damage the damage inflicted by the second worst flood in Franklin history.

And what Story saw was disheartening.

&uot;Everything was gray, even the grass and shrubbery,&uot; she said this week. &uot;After I unlocked the door, I had to push it to get it open. There was still some water on the floor and the refrigerator was tilted back. When I opened the door (to the fridge) water gushed out of it.

&uot;It smelled so bad. It was (like) the odor of diesel fuel and rotting animals; just an old smell.

&uot;Worse than anything was that we looked over at the holding pond across the street and there were 50 to 60 buzzards lined up around the edge of the pond. It was scary-looking.&uot;

There were similar tales from business owners and merchants as a Nor’easter dumped afoot or more of rain that found its way to the Blackwater River, only to overflow and flood the low-lying areas of downtown.

So did Paul Ballance of Ballance Restoration & Carpet Cleaning, located on East Second Avenue.

&uot;It was really nasty — muddy and stinking,&uot; he said this week. &uot;I could see the water line on the wall.

&uot;I had no idea what to expect. It was all a surprise to me.

&uot;There was a lot of mud, but if I hadn’t gotten warned, I’d have lost all the contents of the building. I had flood insurance on the building, but not the contents.&uot;

Estimates for repairs reached almost $8 million, displaced businesses for weeks — depending on the severity of the initial flooding — and some residents were forced to relocate.

The city’s wastewater treatment plant, which is situated alongside the Blackwater, was shut down and some untreated waste was allowed to flow directly into the river, according to news reports at the time.

The downtown portion of the city was shut down after a fuel spill leaked gasoline and kerosene into the water, as well as filling the air with dangerous gases.

A year later, Vic Story, owner of Vic’s Signs and Engraving on Fourth Avenue, said, &uot;I’m dry.&uot;

In 2006, there was almost two feet of the Blackwater River’s overflow inside the building. &uot;It was rough,&uot; he said this week.

&uot;We had to gut the inside, pretty much&uot; to remove damaged drywall and other materials drenched by the floodwaters.

But, Story said, &uot;I was back in here by Thanksgiving.&uot;

Story said he followed the weather and tracked the swelling of the river from upstream and was prepared when the flood moved its way south.

&uot;I actually started hauling stuff out of here the day earlier,&uot; before the waters reached the building, and moved his equipment to a friends garage &uot;and continued to do business.&uot;

Story was also at the Fourth Street location in 1999 when Hurricane Floyd dumped even more rain and created a flood of greater magnitude. Story didn’t have flood insurance then. By 2006, he had flood insurance.

Most of the downtown owners and merchants did get advance warning that high water was on the way. Fresh off the 1999 flood, those warnings were taken seriously.

&uot;Bruce Edwards (of the police department) called me,&uot; Ballance said. &uot;I was the first one to get downtown to move my stuff. I had everything out or on the upstairs floor by lunchtime (that Sunday).&uot;

Downtown Franklin Association members were contacted by public safety officials on that Sunday, Oct. 8, with a warning about the rising river, and DFA began contacting all business owners that they could, starting with the ones in the predicted flood areas. Story is a member of the DFA.

&uot;We had an elevation map of all the downtown businesses,&uot; she said. &uot;By looking at the map, we tried to call all the business owners who would be affected first. That map is what saved us.

&uot;We tried to contact everyone that we could, but some of our information had not been updated.&uot;

Balance said he was thankful for the warning.

&uot;I took it seriously when they called me about (the river rising),&uot; he said. &uot;If another incident like that happened, I’d still consider it seriously.

&uot;When they are predicting water to get into your building, you’re taking a gamble [not to go].&uot;

Another theme running through the recounts of last year’s flood was that so few folded shop and left town.

&uot;All of those thoughts kind of run through your head,&uot; Balance said. &uot;but for all the square footage I have [about 8,000 square feet], I just couldn’t replace that by moving. You weigh those things out, but your payment is still going to come.

&uot;This also is such a good spot. There is a lot of traffic going through here every day.&uot;

Story was more emphatic about whether she considered leaving.

&uot;No,&uot; she said. &uot;We love that building. We’re hoping that it never happens again and if it does, we’ll cross that bridge when the time comes.

&uot;The key was that we had a warning. We’re fortunate, it could have been a lot worse.&uot;