A NIGHT OF TERROR
HOURS OF SUFFERING FOR MAROONED VICTIMS—DAYTON ISOLATED FOR A DAY—GOVERNOR COX APPEALS FOR AID—WORK OF RESCUE BEGINS.
A night of suffering and of terror followed the inrushing of the waters throughout the flooded territory. Communication with Dayton was practically cut off Tuesday night and only the most meager reports of actual conditions leaked out from the stricken city.
Hundreds of persons unable to reach their flooded homes took refuge in the larger business buildings, or were marooned there when the waters rose. The city’s lighting facilities were cut off; heating plants were put out of commission and all through the long hours of the night, in homes, stores, office buildings and business blocks, there was intense suffering by women and children and the deepest dismay prevailed on every hand.
All prayed for the coming of the dawn and the receding of the waters that hemmed them in on every hand. But when morning came at last, there was little to encourage the weary, hungry, saddened sufferers of the night. The city was a watery waste and prospects of immediate relief seemed slim indeed. The single telephone wire in service brought slight encouragement in the news that the Governor of the state was at work doing his best to get means of rescue and relief into the city. So the long day passed and darkness once more approached with every prospect of a repetition of the terrors of the night before.
The following telegram was sent out by Governor Cox, when daylight on March 26 revealed the full extent of the disaster, to Miss Mabel Boardman, chairman of the Red Cross Society, at Washington:
Mabel T. Boardman, Washington, D. C.
Miss Boardman promptly replied as follows:
Governor James M. Cox, Columbus, Ohio.
The general situation on Wednesday, March 26, was deplorable. Early estimates of the number of dead resulting from the floods in Ohio and Indiana were far too high, but death had taken toll at many points in both states, and the sufferings and anxieties of the survivors cannot be overestimated. Their deplorable situation was brought home to the people of the United States during the day by telegrams which, while they contained only a modicum of precise fact, gave glimpses of the terrors that prevailed behind the veil of silence and mystery.
A message from Dayton Wednesday night said:
"Dayton is as a lost city. It is completely separated from the rest of the world. Its isolation is almost primeval. Only one telephone line is working and that is a private wire between Dayton and Lebanon. The city government is completely imprisoned by water. Nothing has been heard from it since the flood descended upon the city. It came down so quickly that no one was prepared.
"The only organized relief movement is that which is being conducted by the National Cash Register Company, whose plant is outside of the flood and fire zone.
"The entire force of this organization has been thrown into the relief work. Not a wheel has stirred in the factories of the Register Company since Tuesday morning and every employe is engaged in relief work.
"The huge plant has been turned into a rescue mission and hospital and a thousand persons slept on its straw-covered floors last night. The dining room and rest rooms of women employes were turned into a dining room for refugees. Nearly all available food was bought up by the company for the benefit of flood victims.
"Dayton has found new cause for its faith in John H. Patterson, the man who put Dayton on the map. Barefooted, yesterday he waded through the flood to save families from flooded houses. He rowed the boat himself. He is nearly seventy years of age. He has two children—a son, Frederick, and a daughter, Dorothy.
"The son led a rescue party and Miss Dorothy, dressed in old clothes and her hair streaming with water, stood in the rain for hours receiving the refugees as they were brought in automobiles. The thirty-one machines of the Cash Register Company were pressed into service for rescue work. It was found that Dayton didn’t have enough skiffs, so Patterson forthwith had his carpenters make 100 small boats. They were ready by nightfall."
Frank Brandon, vice president of the Dayton, Lebanon & Cincinnati Railroad, succeeded in establishing a telegraph wire during the day from Dayton to Lebanon. He said that the situation was appalling and beyond all control.
"According to my advices the situation beggars description," said Mr. Brandon. "What the people need most is boats. The water is high in every street and assistance late this afternoon was simply out of the question. We are rigging up several special trains and will make every effort possible to get into Dayton to-day."
The suburbs of Riverdale, West Side and North Dayton were entirely under water and in the downtown section St. Clair, Emmett and Second streets were flooded.
It remained for two girls to be the chief factors in giving to the world the news of the first day of the flood.
Both were operators but on different lines. One, a telephone operator in the main exchange of Dayton, flashed the last tidings that came out of the stricken city by telephone Wednesday and also gave the news to Governor Cox which enabled the executive to grasp the situation and start the rescue work.
The other was the operator at Phonetown, eight miles north of Dayton, who served as a relay operator for the girl in Dayton. Both stood to their posts as long as the wires held and the young woman at Phonetown, Mrs. Rena White Eakin, worked all during the day and night.
The following account of the Dayton and Miami valley flood was written by Mrs. Rena W. Eakin, telegraph operator, who was rushed to Phoneton, a Dayton suburb, by the Cleveland Press and placed in charge of a special Press wire. The story is printed just as it was clicked over the wire.
Phoneton, O., March 26.—No trains to or from Dayton, tied up all through this territory. Seventy-five to 100 known dead. Great many animals lost. Forty boats patrolling Dayton. St. Elizabeth’s hospital and several buildings undermined. Help sent from Phoneton. Going to send militia from any places available.
Troy completely under water. Situation very bad. Much damage to property and loss of life. Much trouble trying to get food for starving. Sending outside aid.
Mayor of Piqua asking aid for both Fletcher and Piqua. One portion of Piqua under water. Telephone badly crippled. Not much suffering there. Not much damage at Tippecanoe City. Loss to surrounding country great. Report from Lima, St. Mary’s reservoir not broken.
Situation at Tadmore, viewed from across river, seems to be improving. Several houses secured from being carried away by ropes to nearby trees.
Much debris seen passing. Bridge on National road crossing Great Miami river apparently undamaged, but road from Tadmore to east probably will be impassable for a couple of days.
At Dayton, while being removed from Central Union telephone building to the Y. M. C. A. in rescue boat, Morris Breetenbach had narrow escape. Boat capsized. Breetenbach and two rescued by launch.
G. T. Parsons and E. C. Eidmiller, employes at the, American Telephone & Telegraph Co. station at Phoneton, arrived North-side Dayton, trying to get communication with adjutant general’s office to request much needed aid.
Supplies most immediately needed are food, medicine, whiskey and blankets.
The relief committee at North Dayton, now in communication with adjutant general, is arranging to forward requested aid.
Water falling; six feet now. It is expected will be able to get around to different buildings late tonight. Raining.
Twenty-four hours later, on Friday morning, one began to read the stories of eyewitnesses of the scenes in the flood, and the tales of those who had suffered in Dayton, Peru, and other places where the flood had done its worst.
One read of throngs of stricken folk, many of them young children or delicate women, who had been suddenly driven from their homes, without sufficient clothing or adequate supplies, compelled to seek shelter wherever it was available, crowded into business blocks, courthouses, schools and similar refuges, so filled with fear and anxiety for missing relatives that they were unable to sleep or give thought to anything else. And then— thinking of all the trials of those nights and days of terror, of all that cold, hunger, grief and fear had wrought among survivors of the flood—the great heart of the American people was filled with keenest sympathy and another flood set in—a much-needed flood of cash and supplies.
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman