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Old 05-31-2019, 02:04 AM
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panache45 is online now
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: NE Ohio (the 'burbs)
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May 31, 1889: The South Fork Dam fails catastrophically, causing a 60-ft. wall of water and debris to engulf the town of Johnstown, Pa., and the death of more than 2,200 people.

High above the city, the South Fork Dam was completed in 1853, Johnstown being the terminus of the canal supplied by the reservoir behind the dam. As railroads superseded canal barge transport, the dam, lake and canal were sold to private interests. The abandoned reservoir was converted into a private resort lake. The members built cottages and a clubhouse to create an exclusive and private mountain retreat. Membership grew to include more than 50 wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists. After 1881, when the club opened, the dam frequently sprang leaks. It was patched, mostly with mud and straw. There had been some speculation as to its integrity.

On the morning of May 31, after several days of heavy rain and futile attempts to avert a break, the dam collapses. 57 minutes later, after picking up structures, animals and barbed wire from a wire factory upstream, the flood hits Johnstown. The residents are caught by surprise as the wall of water and debris bears down, traveling at 40 miles per hour and reaching a height of 60 feet. Many people are crushed by pieces of debris, and others become caught in barbed wire and/or drown.

The Stone Bridge, which is a substantial arched structure, carried the Pennsylvania Railroad across the river. The debris carried by the flood forms a temporary dam at the bridge. Eventually, the surge returns to the dam, causing a second wave to hit the city, but from a different direction. Some people who had been washed downstream become trapped in an inferno, as the debris piled up against the bridge catches fire; at least 80 people die there. The fire at the bridge will burn for three days. It will take workers three months to remove the mass of debris, the delay owing in part to the huge quantity of steel barbed wire.