Sunday, January 28, 2007

1937 Flood Still Remembered 70 Years Later

Every town in America has some event that despite the years drifting by is still remembered well by the local people. For Maysville Kentucky, one of these events was the Great Flood of 1937. Some of the shops downtown even have markers showing how high the water rose. To give you an idea of the extent of the damage, no less than twenty buildings downtown or more were eventually demolished, it is said, due to flood damage.

Many local residents either remember the flood or have heard stories about the flood from other locals. There were a number of newspapers that carried a story about it this past week. Interestingly, two articles about the 1937 flood appeared today in two different newspapers - the Herald-Dispatch from Huntington, West Virginia, and the Herald-Leader from Lexington, Kentucky. Despite the similarity of their names, the two papers are owned by different parent companies. The reason for newspapers running the story is that this month is the 70th anniversary of the flood. In all those years, the Great Flood of 1937 is still ranked as one of the worst - if not the worst - natural disasters in American history.

From the Herald-Dispatch:

The Red Cross asked 18-year-old Howard Mayes Jr. and his father to help relief efforts with their two-seater pontoon plane. The younger Mayes remembers taxiing the plane to a porch roof in Proctorville, Ohio, to deliver food, taking 20 or 30 pairs of rubber boots up to Gallipolis, and taking an Ironton woman to Maysville, Ky., because her father was dying.

Picking her up from a rowboat in a flooded cornfield was dicey enough, but the real problem was getting her to land in Maysville. The C&O Railway had spotted a long line of boxcars on the main track, which ran alongside the Ohio River, to stabilize it. The boxcars were sticking about a foot out of the water and the plane couldn't get over them.

"I left her on top of a boxcar," he says. "I said, 'Someone will come and get you,' and I guess they did, because I never heard anything more about it."

From the Herald-Leader:

"You compare it to Hurricane Katrina, and then you realize that in 1937 they didn't have helicopters; they didn't have instant communications; they didn't have supplies of bottled water," says Louisville author Rick Bell, whose book, The Great Flood of 1937, came out last week. "It was an incredible disaster because it covered such a huge area."

Cities all along the Ohio River and its tributaries were inundated, including Louisville, Paducah and communities in Northern Kentucky, as well as Huntington, W.Va.; Evansville, Ind., Cairo, Ill., and many more. Frankfort, on the Kentucky River, was under water. The Mississippi River Valley was struck as well, as the flood crest swept downstream. Ultimately, more than 100 counties in a dozen states were affected.

Some communities remained under water for weeks. Highways and railroads were shut down, schools closed, utilities were knocked out. There were gas explosions and oil fires. Martial law was declared in some places. Damage estimates ranged up to $500 million in 1937 dollars. More than 130 people died, and up to 1 million fled their homes.

posted at 2:06 PM by Jeremy Parnell


Ken Downing said...

The water depth and width was amazing. I emailed a photo of upper Market St. with water up to the second floor. I remember seeing a pic of the C & O Depot and only the weather vane on top was visiable

9:07 AM