One year later

Published 9:31 am Wednesday, December 15, 2010

This bridge on Cowpen Creek Road was completely destroyed by the flash flooding that occurred throughout the county in December 2009.|File Photo

In December 2009, much of Escambia County experienced road and bridge damage with businesses in Brewton, East Brewton, Flomaton and Atmore also experiencing losses, damage and a great amount of inconvenience. Activities were postponed or cancelled and the holidays had a gloom looming over them because of a flash flood that left devastation in its wake.

On the morning of Dec. 15, 2009, residents throughout the county experienced a flash flood not seen in this area in many years.

David Adams, Emergency Management director for Escambia County, said the floodwaters came up so quickly there was little time to prepare or react.

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“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.

According to Bill Bridges, Escambia County engineer, the damage experienced on county roadways was extensive with more than $1 million in estimated damages. 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.

“We have let bids for getting the bridge work done,” Bridges said. “We will be opening bids on those repairs Dec. 21.”

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.”

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.

“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.”

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.”