Sunday, October, 22nd, 2017

November 6, 1977 by Steve Johnson (1975-1979)

Stories by Alumni

Sunday, November 6, 1977 1:30 am

“Get up!” “Get up, the roof is caving in!” I got out of bed and hurried to the door. When I looked into the hallway, two guys who lived in the basement came running up the stairwell. “What’s going on?”, I asked. “The basement is flooded. We barely got out,” they replied.

My story actually begins late in the afternoon on the day before. Coming back from town I pulled into my usual parking spot behind “B” wing of Forrest Hall. For some reason I had a feeling that there was something wrong and that I should park over by the lobby on “A” wing. I sat there for a moment with the engine running and thinking, “What could possibly go wrong?” I had parked there at least a hundred times before. The feeling persisted so I backed out and stopped. I thought, “I’m just being paranoid,” and pulled in again not knowing what would happen in a few hours.

It had been raining for about five straight days. The power had gone out that evening and with nothing else to do in a darkened dormitory the guys started to get rowdy. Suddenly the hall monitor came around the corner and yelled, “You guys are in big trouble. I’m going to start taking names!” So we all settled down and went to our rooms. My room was a hall monitor’s room on the third floor of “B” wing on the end across from the present student radio station. I just sat in my room with my flashlight a while before deciding to go to bed.

I awoke at 1:30 am to the sound of someone running down the hallway and pounding on the doors. “Get up!” “Get up, the roof is caving in!” he said. I hurried to the door and stepped into the hallway. The lights were back on and I saw two guys who lived in the basement run up the stairwell. “What’s going on?”, I asked. “The basement is flooded. We barely got out.”,they replied. I went over to the stairwell window and looked down on a river flowing right up against the dorm. Another student ran up beside me with a camera and started taking pictures. I went back to my room to get dressed. My neighbor came in and with a frightened expression asked, “What do I do?” He had lost relatives in a flood a few years earlier. I said,”Get dressed and head up to central campus (meaning the bell).” As I got dressed I could hear boulders, trees and cars slamming against “B” wing. When I felt the dorm shake a couple of times I said to myself, “Better hurry.” I grabbed my flashlight and just as I was about to leave I heard the sound of timbers breaking. I looked out the window and shined the light behind the dorm. In horrified fascination I watched as the Dean of Men’s house slowly twisted on it’s foundation and move downstream. I wondered if the Eby family that lived there was dead or alive. Then I ran down the now darkened hallway and headed for the bell.

The images I remember are like those from a bad dream. People gathered at the bell in the dark; flashlights shining in my eyes; the smell of gas from broken pipes. After a few minutes I walked into the lobby of LeTourneau Hall. It was packed with students who were sitting in the dark sobbing or staring into space. Occassionally one would stand up and pray or quote Scripture, but always to the sound of relentless crying. I got up and went back outside and sat on the wall next to the bell. I got the idea of going along the flood plain to look for survivors. A small group of us walked down to Residence Row. We helped pull a married student who was trying to climb out of the creek onto the road behind Fant Hall. Then we headed toward the area where the RV campsite is located. Debris was piled up so we had to carefully make our way so as to avoid stepping on any nails in the boards. I glanced up and noticed that the stars had come out. It had been raining for days and we had not seen the sun at all. We walked past the farm and stopped at the creek which runs below the hospital, because the bridge had been destroyed. On the other side about 100 yds. away we saw ambulances and spotlights set up. I remember medics pushing gurneys with sheet covered bodies and one of the fellows next to me saying,”Those people are dead.”

Next, we went to the hospital lobby. A group of women from Fant Hall was gathered there. A guy from Forrest Hall had led them there out of fear that Fant Hall would be damaged by the flood. The Academic Dean came in and said, “I have a list of names of the deceased.” The women began to cry, repeating the names as they were read.

I decided to go back to LeTourneau Hall as the sun was coming up. Several of the co-eds graciously offered their rooms to the guys from Forrest Hall to sleep since we had been up half the night. After sleeping for several hours I borrowed a blanket and decided to go look at the falls. I will never forget the sight of destruction in that little box canyon. Gone was the beautiful park and bridges built by the Civilian Conservation Corp during the Great Depression. It looked like a huge explosion had occurred. As I was looking around, Pat McGarvey and her roommate walked up. Pat had a very serious and thoughtful look. I learned later how God had spared her life.

After a few minutes I decided to go look for my car. I followed the creek hoping that somehow my car was not damaged, that it had merely floated out of the path of the flood. I did not have to walk far for there it was, upside down in the bend of the creek behind where the Ring music building once stood. As I looked at it I thought, “Well, I guess the Lord was telling me not to park behind the dorm.” There is a picture of my car upside down in the creek in the 1978 yearbook. You cannot see, but the roof is pressed up against the dash. Cars were scattered everywhere. A station wagon was leaning up against a tree with the back end pointed towards the sky.

There was a service in the old chapel later that day. In 1977 the entire student body could fit in there. As I recall, someone in the Administration was talking about how it was not the end for TFC and God would provide the means for recovery.

Finally, we were told to go home for two weeks so things could get cleaned up. That night was spent at the Georgia Baptist Assembly and in the morning I headed for home.

Steve Johnson
Former student TFC 1975-1979

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