One year later: December 2009 flood

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A year ago today, Escambia County Emergency Management Director David Adams was following a National Weather Service forecast that predicted water from Murder Creek to creep onto Brewton and East Brewton roads by daybreak.
But when he made his rounds at midnight, the creek water was already over the road. It was the first inkling of a massive flood that would halt businesses and schools across the county for the day — and left lingering infrastructure problems that the county and cities are still trying to overcome.
Adams said the floodwaters came up so quickly there was little time to prepare or react.
“The waters that flooded this area came up quicker than anyone predicted,” Adams said. “We had been told to expect flooding by early morning, but at midnight when I made rounds through the area, the water from Murder Creek in East Brewton was already over the road.”
Those quickly-rising waters caused downtown business owners in Brewton to scramble to try and move out merchandise or at least move them to higher levels in the business.
Along with flooding businesses and even a few homes throughout the county, those fast-moving waters tore through pavement, concrete and moved what most would have thought were immovable objects.
County roadways and bridges had more than $1 million in estimated damages, county engineer Bill Bridges said. The county is required to receive approval on many of those projects from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or funding for repairs could be lost.
“We have made repairs in some places damaged by the flooding,” Bridges said. “We are still waiting on approval in some areas. We have to wait on that approval from FEMA or we could jeopardize the funding for the project. We had about $1.2 million in damages according to FEMA estimates. We can’t afford to lose any funding.”
Bridges said emergency repairs were made to make as many roads passable in the county, but a year after the flood some areas still wait for approval and repairs.
“We made emergency repairs so that school busses and residents in damaged areas could get to their homes,” Bridges said. “Smith Dairy Road near Atmore has been closed since December. We just couldn’t do anything to repair that bridge without prior approval from FEMA. We have begun work on two other bridges to get work completed.”
Cowpen Creek Road bridge is being repaired at a cost of $382,000, with the Old Foshee Road bridge over Kent Branch costing about $380,000 to repair, Bridges said. Bids for bridge repairs are expected to be awarded later this month. Bridges said FEMA just approved the work at the end of November. The age of Smith Dairy Road has held up its approval, but Bridges said he expects to hear an answer later this month after state historical officials look at the plans.
“We have let bids for getting the bridge work done,” Bridges said. “We will be opening bids on those repairs Dec. 21.”
Work on the bridges could begin as soon as January, he said.

Money still needed
Bridges said some repair money from FEMA has been received in the county, but more funding is needed and is expected.
“The money has finally started trickling in,” Bridges said. “We haven’t gotten all that we need or what we expect by any means.”
Even though the county is expected to receive funding to do the required work, Adams said there is still work to be done in handling the situations such flooding may cause in the future.
“We just didn’t have enough time to get a good model on last year’s flood,” Adams said. “We’ve learned a lot from this flood and still have some things to learn. Since the waters came so quickly it was hard to make a determination on just what a situation would be at any given stage of a flood. We certainly don’t need any more floods, but the next one that comes will see us better prepared in some areas and we hope to be given a chance to learn more about the damage of floodwaters and how to recover as quickly as possible from it.”
Escambia County Administrator Tony Sanks said the total amount of damages throughout the county topped the $9 million mark, with only a small portion of FEMA funding sent to the county so far.
“The total damages were estimated at $9,066,626,” Sanks said. “FEMA provides 75 percent of that funding, which comes to about $6.8 million. Right now we have received $2,487,237 in funds from FEMA. The state share of the total amount is 10 percent or just over $900,000. We have not received any funds from the state. Those funds are usually paid to a county once all projects are complete.”
Brewton City Clerk John Angel said the city is also still waiting for reimbursement from FEMA.
The only money the city has received is a partial payment for an $80,000 project to repair the city sewer pond.

Long way to go
Adams said floods such as the 2009 event impact more than just the businesses or roads closed as a result of the force of the water.
“When you face what we’ve faced you have schools closed, damages and losses all over the county and businesses closed down,” Adams said.
“When those businesses are closed, cities and counties lose tax revenues. That loss can have a significant impact on a budget that complicates trash collection, police and fire protection and employment within a department. Flooding affects everyone — even those who don’t have water in their homes.”
The damage left from the 2009 flood will take more time to complete, with some repairs spanning more than two years for completion.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Bridges said. “Some work has been done just to make roads passable. To get everything from roads, bridges and rights-of-way back in better condition than before the flood could take another year and a half. We’re working on things as we receive approval and funding, but it’s just going to take some time when you consider everything we have to repair in addition to our day-to-day work. I just hope the public will be patient.”