NATURE SHOWS MEN ARE PIGMIES—EFFECTS OF BUTCHERING FORESTS—GATES OF HEAVEN OPENED—WHAT NATION MUST DO.
Nature on the night of Sunday, March 23, 1913 and the week following proved to modern men that they still are pigmies. Thousands of lives were taken and millions of property destroyed in a few short hours and for days, homes were beneath the muddy waters from deforested hills.
Never before was the United States so smitten by a calamity, nor one so wide spread as that which began on Monday of the fatal week. Omaha was the first large city to suffer. A tornado swept through the great metropolis wiping huts and mansions, factory buildings and other business structures from the face of the earth, leaving only a mass of debris and thousands of homeless people wandering about the hills, half clothed and suffering in the pitiless weather of that fatal night.
Following the tornado which so sorely hurt Omaha and destroyed a score of other communities, the gates of heaven appeared to be opened above the earth. The atmospheric disturbances extended as far east as the Atlantic coast states and everywhere in the country high winds prevailed. Torrents of rain fell upon frozen ground and the waters rushed into the valleys. Brooks became torrents, bottom lands became lakes, dams broke and from Pittsburgh west to the Mississippi came cries of distress. Telegraph wires and telephones lines were broken and many a frantic newspaper editor found the source of information cut off while the terrible messages were half told.
On the morning of Tuesday, March 25, the whole nation realized that the supreme calamity had fallen upon the country. So widespread was the disaster that almost every home in the nation had an intimate interest in the news that came so slowly from the stricken district. Traveling friends, kinsmen of almost every family were menaced and the wires were crowded with messages which could not be delivered.
Red Cross relief forces were dispatched from all quarters by Ernest P. Bicknell from his office in Washington, D. C. Federal troops and national guardsmen were called to arms, to become boatmen in city streets, life savers, foremen, and nurses.
The war department directed that all commanding officers of posts in the vicinity of wind swept and flooded districts take what ever means their judgment suggested for the relief of the homeless people. Tents were provided, food supplies shipped and every means known to a great modern nation were used to remedy the harm done by an unprecedent natural upheaval of the elements.
On Tuesday morning Mr. Bicknell started for Omaha after issuing telegraphic orders to Red Cross forces to meet him there. Before he was half way to the western city where the need seemed to be greatest, he was halted by reports from Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky where scores of small streams had broken through their natural banks and levees.
At this point the demand for coffins in Indiana became so great that the governor of that state ordered caskets from Chicago by the car load.
At Dayton, Ohio, the climax of the middle western flood appeared to have been reached. Dayton was no longer a city, large sections were under water, business was suspended and all able bodied men turned out to become rescuers.
In the face of such a cahmity the forces of intelligence were put to work to find some means of preventing a recurrence of such calamities. None could suggest a method for controlling the cyclone or tornado, but floods are believed to be the result of failure to take precautions. The flood gave opportunity to those who believe in forestry to point out that floods follow the deforestation of the mountains and hill sides. When the high spots of earth are covered with trees and underbrush the waters are held and find their way to the streams slowly and there are no great floods. But when the exploiting lumberman butchers the great forests the path is cleared. Water falling from the clouds rushes into the streams and disaster ensues.
Out of the floods of the spring of 1913 probably will come new interest in forestry, new interest in dams to control flood waters and to produce electrical power and this disaster, like many another, will work for ultimate good of mankind.
When telegraph and telephone communication broke down in the face of wind, fire and flood, public attention was called to the backward policy of the federal government. In spite of the wonderful success of wireless telegraphy on the seas, the development of inland stations has been left to individual commercial initiative. As a result there is no system of inland wire-telegraph. Had such a system been established the nation would have not suffered the humiliation of seeing one of its greatest cities cut off from its neighbors and left to fight the awful battle alone.
Out of the storms and flood and fire has come again the call to collective action. Too long have the people left to individuals and corporations the work of developing and protecting the earth and its people. In the face of such calamities, the puny efforts of individuals and corporation is glaringly apparent. No force except the collective will and energy of the whole nation can protect the forested hill, or replant the deforested ones, or carry on projects to empound the flood water, for the beneficent purposes of civilization.
This book will accomplish good in recording for future generations this story of suffering and heroism, and it will also impress upon the American people the fact that the time is passed when the welfare of the whole people can safely be left to individuals.
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