The Universe and Me

Monday, August 08, 2005

Wipe out

Documentary: The Johnstown Flood. Carolyn brought this up in conversation one day. I forget why but I remembered John talking about it once because that’s where his family originated. I thought the flood was during my lifetime, so I was surprised to see it listed as 1889 on a Google search. Turns out the town has had several floods, the last big one being in 1977 (not a good year!) which is the one I was thinking of. This documentary concerned the 1889 flood which happened on May 31. After several days of rain, the water level of the lake reservoir rose and the neglected and already weakened and leaking South Fork Dam’s centre broke. The entire lake, 20 million tons of water, proceeded to plunge down the valley 404 feet below at 40 miles per hour, draining in less than an hour. Fourteen miles and several small villages later, the treetop high wall of water, which by then was full of debris (trains, rail tracks, houses, machinery, trees, animals, people), hit Johnstown. When the water and debris reached the Stone Bridge at the edge of town, it couldn’t pass through so it reversed and kept striking the town with a whirlpool effect. Four square miles were demolished in about half an hour. And then fires broke out. 2209 people were killed, 750 of whom could never be identified. There had been warnings about the dam, but it seems the people never thought it would truly break or underestimated how much water the lake held or thought their houses would be able to withstand anything. The night after the flood at least four women went into premature labour. Two of the babies were actually named Flood.

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