Austin, PA Dam Collapse And Flood, Sept 1911 - Austin Horror

City Hall after the Austin PA 1911 Flood.jpg Main Street Looking West after the Austin PA 1911 Flood.jpg


Thousand Lives Lost When the Bayless Dam Bursts at Austin, Pa.

Wreckage Catches Fire

Wall of Water Rushes Half Mile Without Warning, Completely Destroying Town, and Lives Are Snuffed Out

[note: Early accounts reported an estimate of "thousands" of lives lost; the final count of deaths was 78]

Dam of the Bayless Pulp and Paper company burned, one mile and a half north of Austin, PA.

Four hundred million five hundred thousand gallons of water rushed down upon the town.

Between 850 and 1,000 persons were drowned or burned to death.

Hundreds of others believed to have been swept away by the great torrent.

Fire follows bursting of natural gas mains.

Scores of persons caught beneath debris and slowly cremated.

More than 1,000 buildings wrecked.

Heavy rains of the past two weeks caused reservoir to fill for the first time since erected two years ago.

Food supply has been swept away.

Physicians, nurses and supplies being rushed from surrounding towns to Austin.

National Red Cross society will aid in relief work.

Governor Tener has ordered state health and charity officials to the scene, together with Adjutant General Stewart and a large police force of state police.

Austin has a population of 3,200.

Costello, town of 450 population, below Austin, also swept away.

Practically every building destroyed by water and fire burning at several points.

Austin, PA, Oct. 2 -- Nearly a thousand were drowned and untold numbers were maimed here when the great dam of the Bayless Pulp and Paper Company, holding back more than 050,000,000 gallons of water, went out Saturday. Many bodies have been recovered, many of them so maimed that recognition is impossible. The survivors are in a frenzy. There is no organization, the being dazed by the force of the calamity which came without a moment's warning. Hundreds of men, women and children are searching through the ruins of the village for their families and friends. The only light is the glare of hundreds of houses which caught fire from broken gas pipes almost before the flood had passed. Chaos reigned from the moment the mighty wall of water tore through the town and there will be no relief until help comes from the surrounding towns. Meantime many bodies lie in wake of the flood.

Dam of Improved Construction. The dam was built two years ago. It was 530 feet long, spanning the little valley formed by Freeman run, and rising to the height of 49 feet. It was of concrete, 32 feet wide at the base, and said to be constructed after the most approved plans of modern engineering.

The basin behind it had never been filled with water until this week and Saturday it was noticed that water was running over the top of the structure. Many persons went out of town a mile and a half away to see the unusual sight, and it was while they were watching the overflowing water that the break occurred.

The course of the flood was through the business center of the little village. Many of the buildings were of wood, and those which were not immediately wrecked by the torrent were soon in flames.

So sudden was the onslaught of water that many persons had no time to flee the hills, but others received the warning and believing it was fire, hastened to the center of town, only to be caught in the flood and swept away.

The flood passed quickly, leaving desolation in its wake. Houses had been crushed and tossed about like toys, while hundreds of bodies had been carried down on the crest of the surging torrent.

With the passing of the water, those who had fled to the hills hastened to return to their ruined homes in search of relatives and friends. Here and there bodies had been cast up along the path of the torrent, and about forty bodies were recovered in a short time. Some of them had been battered so badly by the tossing that they were beyond recognition, while others had been carried along with no apparent injury. Many were caught in the burning buildings, and it will be days before the real extent of the calamity is known.

It is estimated that a thousand buildings have been torn from their foundations and crushed in the flood or have been destroyed by fire. The water made its way through the business section of the town and left only four buildings standing. The valley of Freeman's run is narrow, and the town was built along its banks. All the buildings in the lower part of the valley were swept clear of their foundations by the torrent, and many of those which remained standing fell prey to the flames.

The Iowa Recorder, Greene, IA, 4 Oct 1911, page 9


The first reports of a thousand killed in the Austin floods have been cut down by subsequent investigations. It was good news, indeed, that the killed were not so many as first believed. But with 150 dead the tragedy at the dam was bad enough.

The Iowa Recorder, Greene, IA, 4 Oct 1911, page 1