COMMENTS OF THE PRESS
THE FLOOD DISASTER.
(Omaha Bee, March 27.)
In our own terrible affliction we can sympathize thoroughly with communities in Ohio, Indiana and other middle states, where floods have wrought havoc to life and property more far-reaching than our tornado destruction. The governor estimates 250,000 people homeless in Ohio alone and the same number is estimated for Indiana, while 1,000 in all are reported dead, and property losses are mounting up into tens of millions, much too indefinite to reckon now. Dayton, where the greatest destruction centers, is flooded by the river as the result of a dam going out.
Many American cities have fallen under the blight of fire or flood or wind, or earthquake, only to rise stronger and better, and that is the test now to be met by all those at this time staggering to their feet after these terrible blows. There ought to be a community of sorrow to inspire a similar resolution in all to build better than before.
Cities and districts suffering from storm and flood should take heart to remember one thing. Such a spring as the present one is usually followed by harvests of almost immeasurable abundance.
The most important industry in this country is the live-stock industry. Its products in a year exceed by 40 per cent the value of all the iron and steel produced annually in the United States.
Now a year of floods is always a year of grass. Pastures will be fat this year and meadows stand waist high. Our chief industry will receive a wonderful stimulus. Floods may drown out some wheat, but they will give us a bumper crop of hay, and the hay crop of the United States is worth more than 40 per cent more than the wheat crop. We think little about it because it is chiefly consumed on the farm and reaches the market in the form of meat, but a year of good grass is a good year for the American farmer.
Another thing: A wet spring extends the margin of profitable cultivation westward. On the prairies the blue-stem grass will invade areas usually given over to buffalo grass, and farmers west of the ninety-eighth meridian will see the signs of a good corn year and plant accordingly.
Golden streams of grain will converge on Omaha as July passes into August. The rich valleys of Ohio, the fifth state in the Union in value of agricultural products, will wave with grass and corn as spring waxes into summer and add the wealth of their dairy and meat products to the food supply of the nation. Strange as it may seem, with the very destructiveness of storm and flood are bound up those beneficent forces which multiply the cattle on a thousand hills and make the valleys laugh with abundant harvests.
As in the case of the fearful Sicilian earthquake some years ago, the brute, insensate powers of nature have brought death and desolation to humanity during a festival of divine significance. Then it was the anniversary of the Saviour’s birth that was desecrated by this ruthless and unnecessary tide of human woe. Now it is the anniversary of his life-bringing resurrection.
Bitter as is the irony of such contrasts, few in this dispensation, save the bigoted and benighted, regard these great calamities as visitations of divine vengeance; few even, hold God in any way responsible.
In the olden time men turned their anguished faces toward the heavens, and prayed or cursed or begged at least for reasons, but the inscrutable and changeless dome vouchsafed no answer. But as our conception of the divinity has grown more spiritual, we have come to realize that God is love, and we have come to look for him in the material operations of the universe only as they are affected by the spiritual.
We feel that the forces of nature take their course without the interference of the divine principle. We feel that no God of love and spiritual order could dispense these horrible calamities to mankind, and that without rhyme or reason.
And just as we have grown into the realization that the kingdom of God is in the hearts and souls of men— in the spiritual part of the universe—so have we come to accept these blighting catastrophes as invitations for the assertion of the immanent divine, for the out-pouring of our compassion, the dispensing of our means to the afflicted. We pray that the suffering, the stricken and forlorn may not look up to God in wrath or fear, but with that trusting, understanding spirit which alone is truly receptive of His ministrations.
God is not manifest in the tempest, but he will be manifest in the great wave of human sympathy, of generous widespread aid that will move on toward the stricken cities from every quarter of this land.
Fire, flood, earthquake and tornado-—all the devastating, life-destroying operations of nature have visited man since his entry on this globe, and there has been woe and suffering as the result of them. But the participation of unaffected thousands in that woe and suffering, the ready proffer of relief even from alien shores, that is new—the fruit of the seed that Christ implanted in the heart of man, the seed proclaiming God as love and men as brothers.
"One story is good till another is told," runs an old saying which might be travestied to apply to the swiftly succeeding disasters of the past few days. One story seems bad in the uttermost degree of possible evil till another is told. Horrors accumulate, and the last are worse than the first. When the news of Sunday’s tornado at Omaha came over the wires it froze the blood. The destruction of property valued at millions and the death-roll approximately two hundred persons was appalling. Only two days have elapsed, and the Omaha calamity, sad and serious as it is, has been forced into the background of the news by the unprecedented floods in the Ohio river and its tributaries. The value of the property swept away by these raging waters is beyond estimate, but what shocks the imagination is the enormous loss of life.
All over Ohio and Indiana torrents created by recent heavy rains have caused the water in scores of streams to rise so high and so suddenly that hundreds of people have been surprised in their homes and drowned like rats in a hole. Early attempts to state the loss of life in figures necessarily were the merest guesswork. In Dayton, for instance, what the flood had done when last night’s dispatches came in was hidden under the blanket of the dark. This morning’s daylight, while revealing desolate wastes of water where once had been miles of prosperous business streets and happy homes, may have brought reassurance to souls brimming with the spirit of human brotherhood, by showing that the mortality was not as great as had been feared.
Factories surrounded with water are shut down and thousands are out of work. In some places plundering wretches have necessitated the calling out of troops to preserve order. In Dayton as well as many other cities the water service system is wrecked, and there is apprehension that drinking the flood water will bring on an epidemic.
The fact that in many instances storms which have caused recent disasters were not foretold is arousing criticism of the Weather Bureau. It is complained that the kind of storms which have come unheralded in the West and South during the past few days are the ones which the public is most anxious to learn about in advance, and that while the record after the event may be interesting it is only practically valuable to the extent that it will assist in enhancing the accuracy of future predictions. The Weather Bureau costs too much money for the people to be content with results from it which are merely abstract and scientific. If they cannot get concrete returns they will want to check its expense. Undoubtedly its reports have been valuable to mariners and fruitgrowers. But there is something that dissatisfies the public in frequent failures to give notice of violent storms.
To the casual reader, reports thus far received from the flooded districts in Ohio are accepted as partially colored stories, in which the danger element is overplayed. To them the imminent and later danger following the first deluge is over-estimated. To them there is not the danger attached to the after-effects that the press would have them believe. The appeals of authorities for help are accepted with discount. In both opinions they are wrong.
Taken in their own home town, all are familiar with the discomfort caused by a break-down at the power houses which leaves the city in darkness. Add to that the stopping of the trolley lines. Then demoralize the telephone system, sever all connections between fire alarm boxes and the fire station, likewise those with the police station. Permit no messenger boys on the streets and abolish the cabbies and autos for a day. Close all grocery stores, markets and supply houses and abandon all deliveries from them. Then turn off the city water without having given warning that this was to be done. Lastly, cut all telegraph wires and permit no trains to enter or leave the city.
Would that cause any inconvenience? Would that cause any suffering? Would there be any danger for the safety of the people of the town?
Then add to that the deplorable conditions of a city devastated by surging ice water, demolishing homes, buildings and killing those in its reach. To its effects add the resulting effect of the hours of exposure and hunger on the sufferers—the weakened systems that follow making normal resistance to disease impossible and an epidemic of typhoid and kindred diseases probable.
That has been the experience of Kansas City, of Galveston, of lower Mississippi river towns and all other places suffering from a flood.
When such conditions are remembered then the wonder is that any one would discount the sincerity of the appeals being made for help and the haste with which aid promised is forthcoming.
(Milwaukee Journal, March 26.)
Memory fails to recall such a visitation of storm and disaster sweeping over such a wide stretch of the country as we are witnessing. Day after day has brought fresh reports of new ruin and loss of life. Wind, flood and fire have visited scores of cities and small towns with calamity. Some of them are desolate; from many others it is still impossible to obtain accurate information, and new stories of havoc are pouring in.
Beginning on Friday, with a storm on Lake Erie and the loss of forty lives, the papers have been filled with accounts of nature’s frenzy. Saturday Chicago was all but cut off from outside wire connection; Milwaukee came near suffering the same fate. Sunday seemed to bring relief, but with Monday came the fearful reports of loss by wind storms in Nebraska and Indiana. Even yet we do not know the loss of life in Omaha. But fresh disasters have called our attention throughout the central states.
Stories of loss by flood and wind come in almost faster than they can be put in type. One disaster treads on another’s heels, and they come from all parts of the Mississippi valley. From the fire in Omaha the editor would be called by the story of disaster at Delaware, O., a little city whose quiet river scarcely affords good boating in normal times. Then came the breaking of the levee at Dayton, with a loss of life which cannot even yet be guessed. Then Columbus, then Piqua with the breaking of a dam and the reported loss of 540 lives. From Ohio attention would suddenly jump to Illinois, where a cyclone had caught a train and wrecked it with the loss of fifteen lives; then to St. Louis and the story of a great flood there. Meanwhile the losses in Indiana were growing hourly, Kentucky suffered from tornadoes, Iowa and Nebraska were visited by new storms and fresh destruction. A heroic story came of a telephone girl sending in her message that the building across the street had just collapsed.
From eastern Ohio to Nebraska, from the lakes to Kentucky, has come one constant over-whelming story of tornado, cyclone and flood; of buildings and trains wrecked, wire service interrupted, dams breaking and a toll of life that cannot now be estimated. Memory fails to find a parallel for such universal damage. In a mere moment the storm gods unchained have reminded man of his weakness. The careful defenses of years have been swept away, and nature has shown herself an all powerful ruler.
There is grandeur in the very horror. The tale of destruction is awe-inspiring. Once more we are reminded how puny is man and all his works.
Not within the memory of living man has there been such widespread destruction by wind and flood and rain as during the last week, and the end is not yet.
Last week there was loss of life in Arkansas, in the territory adjacent to Memphis, in Alabama and in Middle Tennessee.
Then came the disaster at Omaha.
Now we have the story of appalling loss of life in Indiana and Ohio.
The map does not encourage a hope for better weather.
There has been a heavy rainfall from the upper reaches of the Missouri to the headwaters of the Ohio.
All this water will come into the Ohio and Missouri and finally into the Mississippi.
So far there has not been a heavy rainfall in the Cumberland and the Tennessee valleys. But before this paper is read throughout its territory there may be enough rain in this region to fill the Cumberland and the Tennessee.
We are going to have a big run of water down the Mississippi. . .
There should be a general inspection and tightening up at once in order that no damage may result from some weak point overlooked.
The news columns of this paper tell the story of the awful loss of life in the northern and western states.
The sympathy of the people of this Southland goes out to the stricken ones in Omaha and in Dayton.
One is a bustling, buoyant, hopeful city in the west; the other is an old town in Ohio—old in years, but young in spirit.
The people of Dayton, though under the shadow of Cincinnati, have made it a splendid small city, the site of a number of prosperous manufacturing plants. But they have not been content with mere business. Dayton is a city beautiful. It has splendid schools, parks, fine streets. It is a model of neatness and order.
A city such as Dayton, however, has a life that neither storm nor flood can destroy. As soon as the waters have left and the dead are buried the work of rebuilding will go on.
Scarcely had this nation recovered from the shock of the disastrous wind storms that caused wreck and ruin at Omaha and other points in the central west, than it is confronted by a still larger and more serious calamity, due to abnormal flood conditions in the Ohio valley and adjoining sections. Spring floods in these sections are by no means unusual, for scarcely a year goes by without more or less experience of this character. But the flood of the present season is the worst that has been known for many years, both in extent and the unusually high stage of water, and also in the toll taken of human lives, as well as in the damage done to property.
. . .Fortunately, the loyalty and sympathy of the American people never fail at such crises, and succor and assistance for the flood and storm victims will be both prompt and generous. The blow which has fallen on the cities and sections will naturally prove discouraging and disheartening, but the experience will pass and then will begin the work of upbuilding and restoring. The one irretrievable loss is the unfortunate number of casualties, for the property losses can mostly be repaired and restored. And in the deep sorrow which has come to those who have lost friends and relatives in this calamitous visitation the entire nation will join, with heartfelt sympathy and condolences. It is just such experiences, in fact, which make the whole world kin and renew the universal bond of human brotherhood.
This is the age of steel. It is also the age of heroism.
Men do not nowadays go out with spear and gaily caparisoned horse to seek lady fair and deed of chivalry. They stay at home at the store, in the factory, in the mill, toiling often into the night to get enough to keep the children in school. The street car conductor with his wife and two children, stands on the hack of his car so sick he can hardly stand. He must earn enough to pay the rent. The widow scrubs in the office building half the night to keep her children from being sent to a home.
It’s heroism in the closet. No grand-stand work impels this sort of thing. Nobody sees and nobody applauds. But it is the real stuff of which the heroes of tournament, battle and disaster are made. When catastrophe comes, the spirit of sacrifice breaks out. It is no respecter of persons. The janitor may rise above the owner of his skyscraper. And in the flood, fire, frost and famine of Dayton another glowing annal in the records of the age of heroism will be written.
Each succeeding calamity will add its mite or its million to the book of heroes of this age. It is an age of heroism because its people are more free to think and do than ever mankind was before. The spirit which clamors for its rights in law will the more readily give up its rights to life. Men will fight for the right to live their lives in justice and throw them away at another’s call.
Dayton will take its place among the world’s disasters—and also in that noble role so honored by the Titanic, when its tale is told.
Seemingly in anger, it reaches from the unknown, without warning and without explanation. No knowledge of man can tell him upon what spot of this earth the devastating touch next will fall—where Nature’s giant grip shall crush man’s proudest works and squeeze life from the breasts of a multitude in a tick or two of the clock.
Those who now escape the clutch can only bow to the unseen force and strive to alleviate the suffering it has caused; to feed the mouths from which it has snatched food; to care for the orphan and comfort the widow; to rebuild the home turned to driftwood and to retrieve from the elements the remains of the dead—then await in the darkness of awful uncertainty its next visitation, an inevitable occurrence so long as the world shall last.
Chicago herself has felt the blighting Hand. Its scars upon her heart have been a reminder—if one were needed—of the sympathy and succor that once flowed into her charred gates from the outside world. And it is a matter of pride to every Chicagoan that in the forefront of the cities, states and nations that have rushed to the aid of Ohio and Indiana was Chicago—with a full purse slashed wide open.
When six great states are swept by tornado and flood, when hundreds of victims are dead and many thousands are homeless because of disasters beyond their power to control, it is time for the federal government of the United States to act as a big, strong brother to those in distress.
United States troops will be sent on request to help local authorities keep order. The marine hospital service, perhaps the finest sanitary organization in the world, will be sent to take charge of the health of the stricken district if requested to do so. That request should be made without delay. The corps that stopped plague in San Francisco and yellow fever in New Orleans is competent to deal with the situation in the flooded towns of Indiana and Ohio.
But soldiers and sanitarians are not enough. The survivors of the worst flood of American history need protection and medical care; but their most immediate need is for clothing, provisions, fuel and shelter. If congress were in session, an appropriation would be made on the instant to carry relief to the flood district. There should be some way in which this aid can be given without waiting for congress.
Some permanent fund should be created which the president can use in emergencies like this whether congress is in session or not.
The national government ought to mean something more than a tax collecting agency and a bulwark against foreign aggression. It should provide relief in calamities which, by their very magnitude, get outside the jurisdiction of states and the power of private philanthropy.
Three inches of snow followed by a warm rain caused the great; disasters in Ohio and Indiana.
Every spring the creeks and rivers of these rich valleys have their freshets. Usually the rush of water is held in by the strong dikes which the people have raised in their own protection. This year the safeguarding embankments have been suddenly overtopped, and there has resulted a disaster so widespread that we can but begin to guess at its real damage to human life and property.
The suddenness of it all is the most appalling feature. The city of Dayton has gone along prosperously and uneventfully ever since a party of revolutionary soldiers laid it out as a town in 1796. The only event that breaks its civic history is the opening in 1828 of the power canal which now seems to have betrayed it. Year after year the Great Miami, Mad and Stillwater Rivers and Wolf Creek have had their freshets like civilized rivers, poured the overflow into the spillways, respected the sanctity of the dikes and subsided.
Now in a week all this good record is wiped out. It has not been a snowy winter. Probably Dayton expected that the spring floods would be less than usual. Then, just before Easter, two or three inches of wet snow fell. It turned into rain. Every field and street and house roof over the vast watershed contributed its little trickle of melted slush. And the greatest flood in Ohio history was born.
Seldom have the people of this nation been more profoundly stirred by a disaster than they are now by the terrible happenings in Dayton, Peru and many other stricken cities in the flood districts of Ohio and Indiana. Prosperous communities, where the people dwelt in what they supposed to be absolute security, have been suddenly turned into centers of peril, starvation and death. The people of these communities are our own people, with our outlook on life, our virtues and our faults.
We must all help these people. We almost feel that we are suffering with them, they are so near to us in kinship and sentiment. Chicago through its city government, its great business organizations and its other agencies for good works is responding splendidly to the call for help. All other communities near and far are giving help according to their means and their opportunities.
When the imperiled have been rescued, the hungry fed, the sick and injured given proper care, the homeless provided with shelter and the dead buried, the time will be at hand for this country to consider well the needless risks that many communities are taking. Floods are not novelties along the rivers in the low, rich and populous valleys of the Middle West. It is time to protect the cities in those valleys from such disasters as that which now appalls the nation.
Protective measures wisely applied should be henceforth a leading test of Government efficiency in the districts subject to floods. Populous cities cannot longer afford to lie defenseless in the path of raging waters.
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman