100 year flood gives perspective

Ryan Carpe Staff Writer

December 25, 2013

DARKE COUNTY – The past weekend’s flooding closed county roads, knocked out power and even swept away cars over its three-day reign.

But it was nothing compared to the largest recorded flood which took place 100 years ago.

“In terms of anything to compare to 1913, there hasn’t been anything since nor anything before in recorded Ohio history,” said local author and flood historian Scott Trostel. “The events of this past week were nothing compared to the events of 1913.”

In March of 1913, three storm fronts converged on the Miami Valley, pouring down 9 to 11 inches of rain on ground already soaked from melting of ice and snow. According to The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) a 90-percent runoff rate caused more than 360 people to lose their lives as the Great Miami River and its tributary streams overflowed. Property damage totaled more than $100 million, which if adjusted for inflation would equal nearly $2 billion.

Locally, Mud Creek and Greenville Creek became rushing rivers, shutting off power and shutting down three railroads and an interurban railway completely.

At the time, the population Darke County of around 42,000 people found themselves stranded on rooftops and awaiting rescue over the course of the five-day flood.

“The west end of Greenville was underwater. Versailles was pretty much underwater,” said Trostel.

According to Trostel’s records, 47 identified bridges were in need of replacement or repair, including every bridge on the Stillwater River from Beamsville to the Darke County line.

Perhaps most notably, six railroad workers drowned as the train they were riding was swept into the Greenville Creek near New Harrison on March 25, and two passenger trains were stranded at New Madison for five days.

And the nearest hospital to Darke Countians was in Piqua, leaving many cut off from close medical aid.

“It would’ve been a struggle to get there. It would’ve been really tough,” said Trostel. “And of course mass transportation was unheard of.”

And because of the loss of power, most businesses were completely cut off from daily operations, including local newspapers who were meant to keep a record of events.

“In fact, other than one or two copies, I haven’t seen very many Darke County newspapers during the floods, simply because they had no other way to run the presses.”

To provide some perspective on recent events, only 25 Darke County roads were reported closed Sunday afternoon as a direct result of the flood.

“The circumstances of the 1913 flood and 2013 flood are very contrasted,” said Trostel, noting that home refrigeration had just begun 100 years ago. “We were only slightly inconvenienced compared to 1913.”

The National Weather Service noted that rain through most of the prior weekend had created the possibility of flooding in low-lying areas, while flash flood warnings were in effect for portions southwest Ohio going into Sunday morning, but the overall the damage was relatively minor as compared to 100 years ago.

However, last week’s flood did show similarities to a regional flood occurring in 1958, said Trostel.

“It [1958] was pretty much a flood on the level that we experienced this past week. Roads closed, streams were up, creeks were flooded. At that time, we had the conservancy district throughout the region and their dams were working, so we didn’t have towns going underwater like they did in 1913.”

That’s because in the wake of the 1913 flood, Miami Valley residents banded together to prevent future flooding.

Around 23,000 citizens contributed more than $2 million to begin a comprehensive flood protection program on a valley-wide basis, forming the foundation of the Miami Conservancy District, which eventually resulted in five dry dams – Germantown, Englewood, Lockington, Taylorsville and Huffman – and levees that have protected the Miami Valley from flooding since 1922.

And as of this weekend, the Miami Conservancy District’s (MCD) reported that three of their flood protection dams were actively storing water which could’ve otherwise flooded cities along the Great Miami River, carrying on its legacy.

Today, the MCD reports protecting tens of thousands of people in 40 municipalities, more than 48,000 properties in five counties and more than $5.1 billion worth of buildings and land.