No individual raindrop ever considers itself responsible for the flood. -Source Unknown Johnstown is a city in southwestern Pennsylvania. The health care industry is the city’s largest employer. Tourism, coal mining, and the production of steel, textiles, transportation devices, and wood products also contribute to the way the economy stands. The University of Pittsburgh is also located in Johnstown. Johnstown was named after a Swiss immigrant, Joseph Johns who settled this land in 1793. In 1889, Johnstown became a city.
This was also the same year that one of the worst natural disasters occurred in American history – The Johnstown Flood. Located 14 miles above Johnstown was the South Fork Dam. The original engineer of the South Fork Dam was William E. Morris. The dam was built from the period of 1838-1853 to be used with the Pennsylvania Canal System. A huge lake was formed from the building of the dam. Shortly after completion of the dam, the Pennsylvania Railroad built its first rail line across the state and the dam was no longer needed. After sitting abandoned for thirteen years, the South Fork Dam was sold to Mr. Benjamin Ruff in 1879.
The dam was in very bad shape, so Ruff recruited 15 other gentlemen to help him in restoring the dam and building a summer resort. Ruff stocked the man- made lake, which was called Lake Conemaugh, with fish thus calling the resort the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club. Ruff and his crew did not make enough repairs because the dam lacked discharge pipes at the bottom of the dam that would allow them to drain the water. For many years, the lack of repairs to the dam did not cause a problem, but that all changed on May 28, 1889. The rain had been coming down for two days causing the South Fork Dam to rise rapidly at one foot per hour.
The man-made lake had grown from its usual 407 acres to 450 acres. The men had been watching the dam to see if it would break. When the water was only a foot away from the top of the dam, one of the men went to inform the town of Johnstown. The people just laughed and did not care because the town usually had small floods from lying on a flood plain. When the man returned to the dam, the South Fork Dam was beginning to form big cracks. The men then started to try to increase the height of the dam by putting bricks on the top of the dam. The cracks had then started to release water and the extra height to the dam did not work.
This led up to the Johnstown flood. Water came pouring out at speeds up to forty miles per hour. The water in the man-made lake emptied in only forty-five minutes. The wave of water ranged from thirty-five to forty feet. The wave went down the Little Conemaugh River and destroyed everything in its path including houses, cars, and whole factories. The wave hit full force onto Johnstown which was at the bottom of the mountain. This flooded the whole entire town and destroyed over four square miles of the town. The people were caught by surprise and many ended up stuck in their homes.
The flood was over in nearly ten minutes. Those who did not die from the flood floated to what was called the Old Stone Bridge. All of the debris, including factories, locomotives, and trees, was swept to the Old Stone Bridge. Water could not go through the bridge. There were about seventy people entrapped in the debris. The debris then caught fire due to the oil tanks. The people just kept on dying in the mix of the flood and the fire. Those who were still alive after the flood went up onto the hillsides to get onto higher grounds. Everyone shared what they still had and they struggled to stay alive.
Three days later, help arrived. In the mix of the helpers was Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross. The first goal of the help was to nurture the sick and help the injured. After the crew had finished and had recovered as many bodies as possible, people started to build temporary shelters. People now were safe until permanent houses could be built. One person commented, “The sound of the wave was like a roar of thunder. ” Ceremonies were held for those lost to the flood. In conclusion, the flood at Johnstown was the worst natural disaster ever at the time with 2209 people dead.
People were mourning over the deaths for years. More than 700 bodies were never identified. Damage totaled over $17 million, but thankfully over $3. 7 billion was raised and distributed among survivors. One year after the flood, bodies of those in the Johnstown Flood were found as far away as Cincinnati. The town was rebuilt five years after the Johnstown Flood. One hundred years after the flood, the townspeople had obviously not forgotten the tragedy because they commemorated the 100th anniversary of the flood. The Johnstown Flood will always be remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in American history. ?