The dam above Toccoa Falls, Georgia, gave some cause for concern. 55 acres of lake pressed against an old earthen embankment built in 1887. Located in Northern Georgia's Stephen's County, it was about ninety miles northeast of Atlanta. Below the dam, Toccoa Creek plunged 186 feet in an uninterrupted drop, to emerge from a canyon beside a Christian and Missionary Alliance College that sprawled across 100 beautiful acres. Indeed, it had gotten its name from the Cherokee word Toccoah, which means "beautiful."
When volunteer firemen inspected the dam late on November 5th, the water was running normally. But a few hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, on this day, November 6, 1977, the dam broke. Within minutes, a wall of water, traveling at 120 miles an hour, smashed into the campus. When it thundered past, roaring like nothing made by man, thirty-nine members of the community died.
The college got its start in 1911 when R. A. Forrest made a preposterous offer to a Georgia banker for the land. "Sir, I'll pay you ten dollars (I have only that and my return ticket to Atlanta), and the Lord and I will owe you the other $24,990 on the $25,000 deal--if you'll trust the Lord and us."
The banker said he could trust the Lord. The deal was struck. The missionary school was born.
After the flood, the town heard stories of survival and prayer, heroism and death. First Lady Rosalynn Carter toured the ruined campus, hoping to bring comfort. "Instead, I was enveloped by hope and courage and love," she wrote.
Survivors sang and prayed while sitting naked and muddy above the receding waters. Some thanked God in the moment of terror, remembering his command to give thanks in everything.
Pat Sproull rode a roof to survival. While in the hospital, she learned that her three daughters had died. Asked how she could be so strong (she was comforting others through tears, despite her personal tragedy), she replied, "We gave our girls to God long ago, even before they were born. He's just taken them now."
After the disaster, a reporter asked one of the professors how he would vindicate God to the students after the disaster. "The question has never even come up," replied the theologian. Most of the students believed that God was in charge of their lives--not themselves.
- Foster, Neill with Mills, Eric. Dam Break in Georgia. Beaverlodge, Alberta: Horizon House Publishers, 1978.
- "Toccoa Falls College." http://www.xap.com/gotocollege/campustour/ undergraduate/524/ Toccoa_Falls_College/Toccoa_Falls_College1.html).
- "Toccoa Falls, Georgia." http://www.southpoint.com/states/ga/toccoa.htm.
Last updated June, 2007