News / USA

A Visit to Flood City, USA

Despite Hurricane Katrina, it isn't New Orleans

This Harper's Weekly illustration, published shortly after the flood, was no exaggeration of the churning, watery wall of death that befell Johnstown.
This Harper's Weekly illustration, published shortly after the flood, was no exaggeration of the churning, watery wall of death that befell Johnstown.

Multimedia

Audio
Ted Landphair

One of the most famous small towns in America is Johnstown, Pennsylvania, population 24,000.

Unfortunately, it owes that fame to a tragedy.

In the late 19th Century, Johnstown was the nation's mightiest steel center - more prosperous than Pittsburgh - turning out steel rails and barbed wire. The air was yellow and black from the smoke, but the pay was good.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania after the Great Flood of 1889
Johnstown, Pennsylvania after the Great Flood of 1889

The town lay on a flat plain at the base of an Allegheny Mountain valley so steep that the hillsides rose straight upward along the Little Connemaugh River.

It was a natural funnel, pointed directly downhill at Johnstown.

High in those mountains, behind a crude earthen dam, wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists and their friends sailed yachts on a pretty private lake.

Naysayers warned of a catastrophic flood should the dam break, but amid the prosperity, the warnings were ignored. Town leaders said any floodwaters coursing down the mountain would flatten out once they reached the valley.

This monument to unknown victims - there were 777 unidentified - stands at a national park commemorating the Great Flood in Johnstown.
This monument to unknown victims - there were 777 unidentified - stands at a national park commemorating the Great Flood in Johnstown.

But one spring night in 1889 and on into the next day, drenching thunderstorms pounded the mountainsides.

The lake rose, intensifying pressure against the dam.

With the force of a giant waterfall, the dam burst, launching a wall of water 18 meters [60 feet] high down the funnel toward Johnstown faster than warnings could be sounded.

Grinding up trees, houses, boulders, locomotives, humans, and animals in its path, it slammed into Johnstown, pulverizing the center of town.

Afterward, most observers blamed the rich yachtsmen and their leaky earthen dam for the deaths of 2,200 men, women and children.

Johnstown is still flood-prone. This shot was taken in 1977, when 85 people died, hundreds were left homeless, and property damage topped $300 million in flooding that followed a summer deluge.
Johnstown is still flood-prone. This shot was taken in 1977, when 85 people died, hundreds were left homeless, and property damage topped $300 million in flooding that followed a summer deluge.

These days, tourists make a point of visiting a museum that tells the dramatic story. Ironically, it's located in a building donated by industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

He was one of the owners of the pleasure club whose members cavorted high above ill-fated Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

You May Like

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More