Somehow, it seems appropriate to publish these old photos today.
“Over one-hundred and twenty years ago the Johnstown Flood killed 2209 people. The bodies of 900 victims were never recovered.
“The Pennsylvania flood had both natural and human origins. A powerful storm delivered six to ten inches of rain in twenty-four hours. Then the natural deluge overwhelmed a neglected dam 14 miles upstream from Johnstown.
“At 3:10 in the afternoon the dam failed releasing twenty million tons of water. The wall of water was traveling roughly 40 miles per hour as it inundated the city under 60 feet of water.”
Of course, in 1889, no one blamed the calamity on so-called global warming, or climate change. People understood that merciless mother nature, coupled with human error, inevitably leads to tragedy.
“Johnstown was built at the floor of a valley. In 1889 it was a thriving little town with a population of about 10,000. Another 20,000 people lived in several surrounding towns and villages. Many Johnstown residents were immigrant workers in local steel mills. The workers were mostly Irish, Cornish, Welsh, and German. Johnstown is situated at the junction of two rivers, the Little Conemaugh and the Stony Creek. At the western end of the city they join to form the Conemaugh River.”
“Men at the South Fork Dam watched in horror as the water in the lake rose as quickly as six inches per hour. Water began to pour over the top of the dam’s earthen wall, eroding the wall’s outside. As the wall appeared to be doomed, men at the dam tried to warn the town by telegraph. Some residents of Johnstown, afraid of a dam break, climbed into their attics, where they would be trapped. At 3:10 p.m. the dam broke. A monstrous wall of water, at times as deep as 89 feet, rushed down the valley toward Johnstown. The water tore large trees out by their roots and essentially destroyed everything in its path.”
“As the wall of water rushed down the valley, a railroad engineer named John Hess blew his locomotive’s whistle to alert the townspeople. People who heard the train whistle realized what was happening and raced for a nearby hill. The onrushing water formed waves like surf, and moved at about 20 to 40 miles per hour. Massive tree trunks in the moving water acted like battering rams. Train cars and even locomotives were pushed along by the water. At 4:07 p.m. the wall of water hit Johnstown. Buildings, whether made of timber or brick, disintegrated. Many people were literally torn to pieces when their houses were destroyed.”
“With telegraph lines down, it took days for the full impact of the flood to be known to the outside world. The Johnstown Flood was the biggest news story since the Civil War. The founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton, personally oversaw relief efforts. In 1989, on the 100th anniversary of the flood, 106-year-old survivor Elsie Frum was interviewed by news organizations. Her father had heard John Hess’s train whistle and had gotten his family to safety, thus saving young Elsie’s life.”
Even though their hometown was nearly wiped off the map, the survivors of the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889 almost immediately began rebuilding their homes and businesses. It took several years for the ravaged community to recover fully.
Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a peaceful Shabbat. To our friends and family back east who are enduring the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we invite you to come visit us in sunny California where you can count on mild weather and, um, earthquakes.