In another of our “floods in history” series, we look at one of the most devastating floods to occur in the USA: the Ohio River flood of 1937. The damage was phenomenal, over a wide area from Illinois to Pittsburgh. The flood started at the beginning of January that year, when the water level of the Ohio River began to slowly rise. Within a week, the whole area had been issued with warnings about flooding. But the rain levels did not cease.
Record levels of rain fell during the second and third week of the year, and on the 18th January 1937, the river began to overflow and the first of many homes were flooded. By the 23rd, the water level had risen to an incredible sixteen metres, and in Evansville, Indiana, the town was forced to declare martial law. By the 26th, the water level in Cincinnati had risen to twenty four metres, which was the highest level to be recorded. Kentucky and Louisville also experience incredibly high water levels, eighteen and seventeen metres respectively. After realising the seriousness of the situation, the local radio stations switched from their regular programming to 24 hour coverage of the happenings without commercials. The radio stations were a key factor in communicating with rescue teams, as there was no other way of contacting them, so many people were saved because of this.
A fleet from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was sent to handle and help with the situation. They were sent on boats along the Cumberland River, but because of the rising waters, the bridges were too low to pass under. Instead, the boats were forced across flooded farmland, having to avoid the local power lines. President Roosevelt despatched thousands of aid workers to the area, as well as supplies of temporary housing and food.
The floods lasted three weeks, and it was not until the 5th February that the waters began to recede. However, the whole area was left with colossal damages. The flood had claimed the lives of three hundred and eighty five people, left a million people without homes, with damages to property measuring over five hundred million dollars. President Roosevelt ordered millions of dollars of aid money to help the rejuvenation of the area.
Here’s another video from one of our favorites, the Weather History channel, which gives us a short but informative clip of the Ohio floods in 1937.
After the waters receded, the locals petitioned for government to take future risks of flooding more seriously, and demanded a plan for control. Over the coming years, storage reservoirs were built in the surrounding area to reduce high water levels on the Ohio River. Over seventy of these were built, and they made a huge difference to the future flood damages.
January 1937 was the wettest month Ohio had ever recorded, with twelve inches of rainfall between the 13th and the 25th. These records have never been beaten. The highest level of the river recorded during this time was 24.4 meters, which was recorded at Gallipoplis, and a total of ten per cent of the city was completely submerged in water. The government felt the strain of the flood, as it was in the middle of the Great Depression, but still, help was sent.