Forgive me if I develop a nervous twitch every time the TV weather folks mention Tropical Storm Alberto. I wasn’t real fond of the first Alberto, which blew out of the Gulf of Mexico, then stalled over north-central Georgia, in July 1994. He left me – and most of the city of Macon – without running water for 19 days.
I was the City Hall reporter in Macon back then. On the morning after the storm, I was awakened by a ringing telephone. The mayor’s office was calling. He was about to have a news conference to talk about flooding in the city, and they needed me there.
I hurriedly took a shower. Had I known it would be the last shower I’d take in nearly three weeks, I’d have lingered a bit and enjoyed it more. And I probably would have filled the tub – and every pot I could find – with water.
Macon’s water treatment plant, located on the banks of the Ocmulgee River, had been swamped by flood waters. The city would be without running water for 19 agonizing days.
Without water coming from the municipal taps in Macon, we couldn’t take showers or wash clothes. There was no water with which to cook, no water to brush your teeth. And, perhaps most significantly, no water with which to flush.
You don’t realize how beautiful the sound of a flushing toilet is until it is silenced. Portable toilets were set up on street corners in Macon. The newspaper set up three of them in the parking lot outside for employees and kept them under lock and key.
Because I spent nearly 14 straight hours at work following that call from the mayor’s office, I wasn’t able to get to the store and stock up on bottled water. By the grace of a dear friend, I came home that night to find two cases on bottled water on my front porch.
It would be the only water I’d have for three weeks.
Being without running water for three weeks was bad. But we realized it could have been worse. Up and down the Ocmulgee and Flint rivers, flood water swamped homes and businesses. And at least we still had electricity, and thus, air conditioning. No AC during three weeks of a Middle Georgia summer would have been awful.
We did have our challenges, however. I’d start the morning by filling a saucepan with water and heating it on the stove. While it was getting warm, I filled a small cup with water.
I used the water in the cup to wet my toothbrush and to rinse my razor. I soaked a washcloth in the saucepan’s water and use it to bathe. Every fourth or fifth day, I’d splurge and use enough water to wash my hair.
Every bit of unused water fom the saucepan or the cup went into the toilet’s tank, and eventually, there’d be enough water in it to flush.
I vividly remember the Saturday morning when I saw the water department employee riding through my neighborhood and opening up the fire hydrants to flush the system. Finally, we had water again.
Watching the news a little while ago, I saw reports of flooding in part of Florida, Georgia and Alabama. I hope the storms passes soon and flooding isn’t too severe.
Or we’re all going to have another reason to hate storms named Alberto.