The Big Floods

Reader Contribution by Mary Carton
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The recent heavy rains and flooding brought comparisons back to the Wednesday, March 14 to Friday, March 16 of the 1973 flood. The flooding this year was the second worst flooding we have had, with the 1973 flooding being the worst. During our monthly Deshler Class of 1971, the topic of the current flood and that of 1973 came up. I was attending Florence State College at the time and working part time as a secretary at Our Lady of the Shoals Catholic Church.   

I started out that day that most of the worst part of the flooding occurred and hit the big dip on Woodmont Drive south of Spring Creek. The little dry creek was overflowing its bank and the road was closed. I turned around and thought I would go via highway 43, but when I got to the two bridges south of the 72 and 43 intersection, water was everywhere.  A car had tried to cross the water, and landed up floating down the creek. The driver had to be rescued. The last option was going over Gobblers Knob, which was a narrow dirt road at the time.  I wasn’t the only one who had that idea.  The ruts were horrible, but my little Dodge Dart finally made it over to Frankfort Road. 

As I got to the old Hook Street bridge over Spring Creek, water was coming over the roadway. I was one of the last ones allowed to cross it before it was closed. After I finished my story, Wade Gann said that the bridge was knocked a few inches off of the pillars by the force of the water, and they had to use every large truck they could find to pull it back over.  In the back of my mind, I wandered away from our conversation, and I started counting the number of times I had crossed that bridge between 1973 and the time it was replaced with the new bridge.

During the 1973 flood, ten inches of rain fell during the three days. I reported 9.38 inches during the recent flood to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) during this past week flood event. During the 1973 flood, Wilson Dam was spilling 550,000 cubic feet per second or 4.2 million gallons over the spillway gates. This time Wilson has been spilling 1.7 million gallons per second for most of the week, with a high of 3.5 million gallons per second, this past Sunday.

During the 1973 flood, Courtland Hospital had to be evacuated. The area along both sides of Woodward were flooded, including the area where Gusmus Pond was located at one time. Gusmus Pond was replaced by South Gate, so Woodward Avenue was called Woodward Lake during the flood. FAME recording had built a wall around the recording studio and was running seven pumps until water came over and entered the back of the building.  Afterwards, FAME had a sign on a flatbed trailer which read “Your TAX Dollars at work, TVA experienced in flood control, this water from TVA reservation.”

It took a week for the flood waters to subside in Muscle Shoals. Southgate Mall had after-flood sales. First Colbert National Bank (now Bank Independent) had an ad “banking by boat” showing someone in a boat at the drive through at their Southgate Mall branch announcing all branches were opened back up.

Fame Recording and the City of Muscle Shoals filed lawsuits against TVA. It was alleged that TVA had altered the natural flow of Pond Creek by building several small road bridges across the drainage ditches and didn’t make provisions for handling a large volume of water. The suit charged that the embankment and bridges “effectively obstructed the flow of water off Pond Creek.” The water then backed up over large areas of Muscle Shoals, most notably, South Gate Mall and the businesses around Buena Vista, which included Fame Studios, Biscuit Village, and several others. I transferred to Auburn the next fall, with little access to Shoals now, so I don’t know what happened with the lawsuit.

Remarkably, no one died in the Shoals during the 1973 flood. Only one death was reported in North Alabama. 

With the weather, the sandhill cranes and whooping cranes migrated back north from Wheeler Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, AL.  I was able to make one trip to there and get a few photos. The American White Pelicans have been swimming around in the creeks and sloughs back away from the main channel of the Tennessee River. Spring Park in Tuscumbia was under water this time for a week. The swans spent several days sailing around on the golf course. Several of the newer subdivisions in Muscle Shoals were still flooded a week later. The small town of Leighton still was holding water when I drove through last weekend. We had a lot of road damage all over our area. I had almost ten inches of rain in my gauge in a week.  If the rain had been continuous like the 1973, the flooding would have been as bad. 

One difference between then and now was the large number of sightseers out during this flood with cell phones in their hands.  One guy apparently was hiding under a cabbage leaf when common sense was handed out and crawled over the fence at the end of the old railroad bridge. He was photographed standing on one of the pillars with what looked like a child hanging over the water on his back. As a result, everyone was chased off of the bridge, and the gates were locked. The pillars are over 150+ years old, and I wondered if they could stand the force of the water, along with the numerous folks on it.

In 1973, we didn’t have cell phones, and were concerned with getting to where we needed to go, and helping those in need.

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