Johnstown, PA Flood, Mar 1936

Johnstown Flood Danger Subsides, But Snow Falls

Hundreds Living on Dry Bread and With Homes Still Uninhabitable

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. March 19 (AP). Prostrated by the worst flood since the disaster of 1889, the city of Johnstown Thursday night was a scene of despair, hunger and suffering as relief workers started clearing away debris and wreckage that filled streets and buildings.

As the bedraggled refugees struggled back to the flood-wrecked homes after a sleepless night in emergency shelters, army officials estimated the death toll at from seven to sixteen. There were five known dead.

The suffering city, still without normal lighting service and with heating systems badly crippled, was cheered by the arrival of a few truckloads of food, but hundreds had nothing to eat but dry bread, and sickness was spreading rapidly.

The heating situation became acute as a snowstorm struck the city, accompanied by falling temperatures.

Streets Are Patrolled.

National Guardsmen, State police and local officers patrolled the muddy streets to prevent looting and vandalism as the city continued under martial law.

The Conemaugh River, which poured sixteen feet of water over a square mile of the city's business and residential area Tuesday night, was well back in its channel.

A dance pavilion high on Westmont Hill above the city became a cheerless makeshift hospital for 653 sick and destitute refugees, including 258 children.

Three babies were born there. Dr. H. T. Kahle, in charge of sick relief, cared as best he could for his charges in the unheated refuge.

He said the danger of disease was growing hourly and ordered special health precautions.

While businessmen and householders aided WPA workers with shovels and brooms in clearing out two feet of mud from downtown buildings, partial power service was restored.

Food Being Sent In.

Dr. Kahle said there was plenty of bread and other food for the sick and the Salvation Army was sending in two carloads of food.

In some parts of the main business section flood waters still stood on the streets and officers continued rowboat patrols past the darkened stores.

Fears that the big Quemahoning Dam, twelve miles above Johnstown, might collapse were largely dissipated by reports that the flood gates had been opened, relieving the pressure.

Communications were partly restored Thursday, but only emergency messages could be carried on the limited facilities.

George Fuller, manager of the Bell Telephone Company, described the situation as the worst since the flood of 1889 which took more than 2,000 lives.

Many Reported Missing.

An officer at Red Cross headquarters, where thousands of the refugees were cared for Wednesday night, said: "Families are reporting many of their kin missing and we won't be able to tell just what the total loss of life is until the residents return to their homes."

A representative of the army engineers reported to Maj. William D. Styer at Pittsburgh that the death toll might be as high as sixteen.

Major Styer said he was making efforts, in conjunction with police and other authorities, to check the reports.

Many refugees, returning from the emergency shelters, found their homes inhabitable or destroyed. They went to schoolhouses, fire stations and private homes until the damage could be repaired.

It will be days, maybe weeks, officers said, before Johnstown is restored to normal. Property damage was estimated at from $3,000,000 to $10,000,000.

Old-timers, who recalled the flood of 1889, said the Conemaugh flood stage came within three feet of the high mark reached then. Twenty consecutives hours of rain, however, gave the residents warning before the surging torrents reached the city, enabling most of them to evacuate their homes safely.

Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX 20 Mar 1936