CITY OF DEAD, DYING AND HOMELESS
MAIN LEVEE OF BIG MIAMI RIVER BREAKING LETS FLOOD IN UPON OHIO CITY—BELL, LONE OPERATOR IN TELEPHONE BUILDING, INFORMS OUTSIDE WORLD—HIS GOOD-BYE—TROOPS AND SAILORS TAKE CHARGE.
The flood came to Ohio soon after daylight after the residents had spent a night in terror.
The main levee of the Big Miami broke at Webster street in Dayton at about 8 o’clock. An hour later the water was through in a dozen places and a wall of it ten feet high swept through the main street. Just above the juncture of the Big Miami and the Mad rivers, and where the Stillwater river pours into the Miami the flood reached its height and rolled into the business section, a wall twenty feet high. The flood rose to the second floor of the Algonquin hotel and all along Main street occupants were driven to the third floors. That day Dayton was a city of the dead, the dying, the homeless and the grief-stricken. The full extent of its tragic story was not known until the last dead body had been taken from the flood that covered half the city and the last charred body from the ruins of the fire that spread unchecked through the southern district of the city.
The whole story will never be told—the heroism of men, the martyrdom of women, the mad hysteria that seized some and caused them to jump to death in the flood, the torture of despair that gripped those who, imprisoned in their homes by the water, waited in vain for help until the advancing flames came and destroyed them.
A man marooned with his family on the roof of his home shot and killed his wife and three children and then himself rather than to suffer death in the flood, according to a report received by J. J. Munsell, employment superintendent of the National Cash Register Co., from a man who actually saw the occurrence. The bodies floated away.
In the Dayton disaster there was duplicated the heroism and the martydom of the Titanic, the horror of Johnstown and San Francisco after the earthquake.
Other men who have ventured into the flood district told stories of awful loss of life. To add to the horrors of the situation, reports reached the state house that buildings in the flood-swept district were being looted by men in rowboats.
To meet this emergency and to better patrol the West Side, which is under martial law, Governor Cox ordered that Troop B of the National Guard should patrol the ruined section of the city. It was believed the cavalrymen could cover more territory than foot soldiers.
Stories of terrible deaths, keenest suffering, heartrending hardships and acts of heroism were told by men in the rescuing parties. Hundreds of people were marooned in flooded homes, their rescue at that time being impossible because of the swift current of the river. Rescued people in dire straits were brought to the city hall in a stream all day, where hundreds wait to obtain news of missing relatives and friends.
Families were separated and men, women and children stand night and day at the edge of the water waiting for the flood to subside that they can reach abandoned homes.
The body of a man was suspended in a tree near Glenwood avenue, beyond the reach of rescuing parties. Other bodies were among debris washed up on the edge of the waters in the southwest end of the city. Near this debris were two submerged street cars, and in the tree with the corpse nine persons were said to have perished that afternoon.
The lone Dayton operator, John A. Bell, who heroically stuck to his post in the exchange of the Central Union Telephone Company throughout the long siege of flood and fire, flashed the word to the office of Governor Cox that the fires in Dayton had taken a new start, breaking out in many new places and getting so near to the telephone building that he would have to leave.
"I want to say good-bye," were the words he flashed out. "I am going to make an attempt to escape, but may meet the fate of great numbers of others who have only escaped from the water to be burned to death.
"I can see buildings all around me in flames. People running back and forth, waving their hands and crying for help, but no one can save them. No boat can live in the awful currents of water rushing between the buildings. Men, women and children in the path of the flames are doomed.
"No one can estimate the number of the dead. Thousands are in the midst of these torrents and no one may ever know how many have died. Good-bye."
The last connecting link between flooded Dayton and the outside world was silenced. The spark died out and all was still.
Bell kept Governor Cox informed every half hour of conditions in the stricken city and delivered orders through boatmen who rowed to his window, called the state house at daybreak on Wednesday and greeted the executive with a cherry "Good morning, Governor; the sun is shining in Dayton."
But sunshine gave way to a driving snowstorm later in the day and the reports coming from Bell were less cheering as the day advanced, until the ominous word from Adjutant General Wood was received that what were most wanted in the one time Gem City were coffins and food.
General Wood had been marooned two days in a fire engine house, but was found and rescued at the request of Governor Cox through the efforts of Bell. When Wood was taken to the telephone building he received orders from the Governor to take charge of the troops as they arrived and made a survey of the conditions in the city. His first report was that the water had fallen to two feet in the business section and that the danger of a widespread conflagration had been avoided by the Governor in having the natural gas supply of the city cut off.
The next report from Wood was that asking for coffins and food. The General said several hundred bodies were in sight and that he feared that the death list was larger than they had thought.
The naval militia was the first National Guardsmen to reach the flooded section of Dayton. They were in boats, which they handled to perfection in reaching imprisoned flood sections, and they did the first real work of rescue.
How the Toledo sailors covered the last lap of their journey was not detailed. At daybreak 410 guardsmen had got as far south as Troy, the naval reserves in the van. Half an hour behind them at that time were the life savers from Cleveland.
Ahead of them a relief train was scheduled to arrive from Springfield. Upon the arrival of the troops Dayton was placed under martial law, as were other flood-ridden districts where guardsmen were stationed.
Troops from Marysville reached Columbus and succeeded in getting to the hill tops at the west of the city, bringing the first aid to the people who fled from their homes to the high grounds. There was deep concern that many people living in the lowlands at a distance from high ground had been lost in the flood. All day there was a stream of automobiles carrying rescued people from the West Side to the City Hall.
It was with great difficulty word was obtained from Zanesville as to conditions there. It was reported that the water on Main street was fifteen feet deep.
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