PENETRATING FLOOD DISTRICT
STORY OF FIRST BELIEF PARTY BY EXPERIENCED NEWSPAPER PHOTOGRAPHER—HEROISM OF TWO SAILORS— GLIMPSE OF OHIO SITUATION.
Clyde T. Brown, a newspaper photographer who has been in the midst of earthquakes, the Mount Pelee disaster, strikes, fires and riots for twelve years, was one of the first journalists to penetrate the Ohio flood district. As a member of a relief expedition he traveled for eighteen hours on a train that ran without orders over many divisions.
Mr. Brown described the perilous trip of the relief train and his subsequent experiences as follows:
"We made the trip in eighteen hours, arriving at Dayton after considerable difficulty, shortly after noon Thursday. We proceeded on the train that left Toledo to West Liberty. This part of the journey was made in a roundabout way. At this point we came up to a washed out bridge.
"A hundred or more farmers with teams stood ready. The train was carrying a stock of medicines, clothing and food, besides doctors, nurses, naval cadets, telegraph operators and newspaper men. The provisions were taken from the train and loaded into the farmers’ wagons. There was a haul of three and a half miles to get around the washout to the other side, where another train waited. We walked this distance through mud, water and snow.
"In the second train we went to Xenia, thence to Springfield and finally to Dayton. All along we encountered flooded conditions and at times the train made barely eight miles an hour.
"At Dayton we found a frantic, despairing, halfstarved lot of people. They were huddled together wherever high spots in the city afforded a place of refuge. The flood had receded somewhat, but the streets still were raging torrents in many parts of the city and the water marks on the buildings showed that the flood at some points had been twelve feet deep.
"The militia already had established a wall about the city and sightseers were barred absolutely. All along the route of our train persons attempted to get aboard to go to Dayton and it was with difficulty that they were kept off the coaches. At Springfield, for instance, a gang of ruffians attempted to get onto the train by force and there was a struggle before they were repulsed.
"Every one in Dayton had on high rubber boots. Travel was almost impossible except by boats. Everywhere the work of rescue was being carried on. Every man that was able was aiding in the work.
"In many of the large buildings there were still hundreds of men and women marooned and these were being taken from their places of refuge as quickly as possible. Throughout the residence sections of the city people were imprisoned in their second stories and on the house tops. Members of the rescue party were taking food to these people in boats, making the rounds of the flooded homes.
"The early horror of the catastrophe seemed to have passed somewhat and the people had become slightly hardened to the situation. They were in a nerve shattered condition, however, and they showed the effects of sleeplessness and the overtaxing of mind and body.
"New panic broke out when it was reported Thursday afternoon that the Lewiston reservoir had broken and another flood was on the way. This report proved to be untrue.
"There were stories of fearful tragedies mingled with tales of remarkable heroism to be gained from those who had fought through the trying hours to save their fellow men.
"The number of deaths remained a mystery. About eighty bodies had been recovered when I left Dayton Thursday night. They had been placed in temporary morgues. Many of the deaths were the result of suicide among persons who became frantic as they watched the death waters creep upon them.
"There was a remarkable story of heroism of two sailor lads who happened to be in Dayton when the flood broke. They gave up their lives in the work of rescue. Their identity was buried with them in the swirling waters.
"The two sailors were in the residence section of West Dayton when the torrent reached there. Able at the oars, they quickly obtained a boat. I was told that they rescued at least 150 men, women and children from marooned residences, carrying load after load to higher land.
"The waters became higher and more turbulent as they proceeded with their work. They started out, upon another trip of rescue. They encountered the rapid current. The boat was capsized within sight of many of those they had saved. It was impossible to swim in the raging water and the two heroes went down, their bodies to be carried away probably never to be found.
"The heroes whose deeds were recounted to me were too numerous to list. Men struggled in the work of rescue until their muscles gave out and their strength failed. Large numbers of boats were at hand. They had been sent from all neighboring towns and localities.
"Immediate rescue of those marooned in the large buildings in the business section of the city was impossible because of the swiftness of the current and this was not attempted until Thursday, when the waters had begun to recede considerably.
"The method of rescue was unique. The current in most of the streets made it unsafe to attempt to row to the buildings. Ropes and cables were hurled into windows and made fast. In many of the buildings elevator cables were cut and brought into use. The boatmen used these ropes and cables to propel their boats, making progress hand over hand.
"Hunger was the chief cause of suffering among those who had been marooned in the office buildings, but plenty of food was at hand once the work of rescue became possible.
"Churches, schools and all buildings on higher ground were turned into dormitories. Many persons also were taken out of Dayton to near by localities. Every farmer who could drive to Dayton was there ready to return to his home with as many of the flood victims as he could afford to care for and house.
"There were many cases of individual heroism. A barber, Edward Price, thinking that his wife and child were safe in their home in Edgemont, when the flood first broke went into the heart of Dayton to rescue his parents and brothers and sisters. He procured a boat and after a difficult and perilous trip he found the entire family on the roof of their home, the water already lapping the second story. Alone he carried the members of the family to safety. In the meantime the roaring waters had spread throughout all parts of the city and Edgemont was submerged. When I left Dayton he had not found his wife and child, for whom he had been searching night and day.
"There were many suicides. One particularly tragic incident occurred in a house in Jefferson street. A man and wife stood at a second story window of their home Tuesday throughout the afternoon calling frantically for help. The street before the house had become a torrent and no one dared brave the current to get to the house in a boat. The water continued to crawl toward the two at the window. ‘If the water reaches us I shall kill my wife and end my own life!’ The man shouted. He brandished a revolver. Darkness fell. Two shots were heard to ring out. In the morning the two figures were not at the window.
"Several men who were aiding in the rescue work Thursday met death when a carload of carbide exploded near the railroad station.
"Others, in walking about the flooded streets after the waters had receded somewhat, suddenly disappeared from view. The cause of this, it was learned, was that the force of the waters in the sewers had blown off the covers of many manholes and men were walking into them unawares.
"Hundreds of horses and dogs were lying dead in the street from which the water had backed off by Thursday afternoon. Several hundred residences were carried away by the flood, but most of the wreckage had been carried downstream so that very little of the destruction in this respect was visible.
"The actual damage done by the several fires that burned Thursday in the business section of the city could not be established, because it was impossible to get near enough to see. The fire was said to have started in a drug store. As far as I could learn no one was burned to death. A large number of persons, including women and girls, were rescued from one of the burning buildings.
"When I left Dayton Thursday night the water had left many of the streets and it was not more than four feet at any point, I should judge. None of the large buildings had been wrecked. Stocks were ruined, however, and the loss of residences was undoubtedly large.
"There was little attempt at looting. The militia force, which had the city under perfect control in conjunction with the police, was on a strict watch for any such attempt.
"The actual damage to bridges could not be ascertained easily. The Great Miami and its tributaries had so broken their courses that through the middle of the city there was one great lake. The height was above the tops of the bridges and it was not known whether the structures had been washed away.
"The city, as a whole, presented a gloomy aspect. Its industry had ceased. Everything had been turned into a general stock or fund. Where unspoiled stock was found in groceries or other stores it was turned over to the relief committee and used in feeding the refugees. Where the water has fallen back there has been left a heavy coating of mud over the houses and pavements.
"There is plenty of food, but there was concern in another direction. There was a scarcity of fuel and there had been suffering because of the cold that set in, following the first day of the flood. The rain turned to snow and sleet and added to the suffering. The nights were without light. The nerves of the citizens had been so wrought up that the people were in constant dread of further disaster. The victims were in crowded quarters, although relief was on the way."
It proved to be as difficult to get out of Dayton and away from the flooded district as it was to get into the city.
Mr. Brown hastening to return to Chicago to bring with him a photographic story of the great tragic disaster, left Dayton Thursday night. He went by railroad to Springfield, thence by automobile through muddy roads to Xenia. Further progress appeared impossible.
"At Xenia I met the son of a railroad official," he said. "There were no trains for the north. It was impossible to go south, toward Cincinnati. The man I met was anxious to get details of the horror at Dayton and I told him what I had seen. I then impressed upon him the necessity of getting out of the district as early as possible and he aided me to get an engine and caboose to carry me and several others.
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