Good Friday, March 21, 1913. A twister outbreak hits the mid-west and torrential rains follow. Rivers already swollen from heavy winter snow and ice melt cannot withstand the nine to eleven inches of rain the storm system dumps over the course of five days. What follows is arguably one of the worst American natural disasters in history.
The rain affected fifteen states including Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Flooding killed hundreds and caused $100 million dollars worth of damage in 1913 currency. The raging waters leveled entire neighborhoods, destroyed homes, schools, businesses and infrastructure. Phone lines fell, power plants shut down and blazing fires ravaged communities. Dams and levees were crushed at the mercy of the unforgiving waters.
Neighbor helped neighbor in those dark days. The American Red Cross was not well equipped to handle the enormous catastrophe and there were no other established relief organizations. Many families took to their roofs—yelling, hoping and praying for a boat rescue. Many calls went unheard. The families and people that were fortunate enough to be rescued were taken to local shelters such as the YMCA, and undamaged schools and hospitals.Many children had to say goodbye to beloved pets when the rescue came, as there was no room for them in the boats.
My grandfather was one of the fortunate ones to be rescued. The Holloway family of four lived in tiny Piqua, Ohio, about thirty miles north of Dayton. The Great Miami River runs through the town and on Easter Sunday, 1913, the waters spilled over the banks and washed away everything in its path. My grandfather, who was 13 years old at the time, his younger sister, Catherine, and their parents rushed to the steep roof of their two story home on Harrison Street. My great-grandmother grabbed the bread box from the kitchen, my great-grandfather grabbed the beer (priorities!) and the family awaited rescue from the rooftop. Luckily, a neighbor with a small boat heard my great-grandfather yelling for help and loaded the family in his boat and dropped them off at the YMCA, where they were fed ham sandwiches and coffee. My grandfather’s home sustained horrible water damage and the Holloways stayed with family members whose homes escaped the destruction until theirs could be cleaned out and repaired.
After the horrible effects of the Great 1913 Flood, engineers and city officials vowed that a flood of this nature would never happen again. Dams and levees were shored up and millions of dollars were raised to help prevent future devastation.
Destroyed homes in Dayton, Ohio, March 1913