EXTENT OF THE DISASTER
STATEMENT BY GOVERNOR COX—DAYTON’S PLIGHT UNPARALLELED—MANY WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN PERIL—FIRST MEASURES OF RELIEF.
That the nation might comprehend the horror of the flood situation in Ohio and realize the urgent necessity for rendering prompt assistance to the stricken cities, Gov. James M. Cox on Wednesday night telegraphed from Columbus the most complete and authoritative summary of conditions that had been made up to that time.
The Governor’s statement follows:
"The exact extent of the appalling flood in Ohio is still unknown. Every hour impresses us with the uncertainty of the situation. The waters have assumed such unknown heights in many parts of the State that it will be hardly less than a miracle if villages and towns are not wiped out of existence in the southern and southwestern parts of Ohio. The storm is moving south of east.
"Please give great publicity to an appeal for help. My judgment is that there has never been such a tragedy in the history of the republic.
"Columbus was the center of all activities in behalf of the stricken cities. Every hour has apparently been filled with an accumulation of drastic circumstances.
"Piteous appeals have been made by men who were surrounded by water and confronted by the approaching conflagration in the city of Dayton. Every human energy has been exerted to give relief, and yet the measure of assistance has been comparatively small. It is my belief, however, that by daylight tomorrow those imprisoned in the business section of Dayton can be relieved.
"The day began by a storm signal from the weather bureau, advising that there would be a dangerous rise in the waters of the Muskingum River. All the towns along its source, including Zanesville and Marietta, were advised. Before noon the situation assumed a critical aspect at Zanesville, and the historic ‘Y’ bridge was blown up with dynamite.
"The loss of life in Zanesville is uncertain, because all telephone communication ceased at noon. Marietta cannot be reached, but it is safe to assume that the same devastating results at Zanesville were carried on to Marietta.
"A flood situation developed in the Maumee and Sandusky Valleys in northwestern Ohio, but the damage to life and property was nothing compared with that in the south.
"In many respects the Dayton situation is absolutely without parallel. The city is unable to send to the outside world any accurate idea of the real loss. North Dayton reported a loss of 100 lives. Later precisely the same situation was reported from Riverdale. West Dayton was almost completely under water, and the houses in Edgemont, a residential section, were so deep in the flood that great destruction to life and property certainly ensued there. On the highlands of South Park and East Dayton pockets were developed and people were drowned in apparent elevations where it would seem naturally impossible. The water at Fifth and Brown streets, which is twenty-five or thirty feet above the elevations in the business section, reached ten feet in depth.
"At this time a river wild and turbulent, four miles wide, is sweeping throughout the business section of Dayton, to say nothing of the overflow in the residential sections.
"The Miami River enters Dayton directly north and south, separating North Dayton from Riverdale. It then makes a complete turn west and runs about three-fourths of a mile, then turns directly at right angles to the south. These bends have been the undoing of the city and caused the break in the levee.
"Not until today was it apparent that between 10,000 and 12,000 people are penned up in the business district in buildings, hotels and the Y. M. C. A. building, making it apparent that the flood came so quickly that the business community was unable to reach the hills of the city.
"The city hall is patroled by a number of policemen inside, and it is so situated as to enable the officers to make more or less accurate estimates of the number of people in the business section.
"Fire broke out in the square bounded by St. Clair, Jefferson, Second and Third streets soon after noon. The blaze was noticed first in a drug store. It swept north and destroyed the St. Paul Evangelical Church. The flames then shot to the south through the wholesale district, consuming two large wholesale liquor houses.
"The fire is still burning tonight. We were advised by telephone tonight that people could be seen on the roofs of the buildings in the imperiled square and that they were jumping from one structure to another, keeping safely away from the flames. The water at this time had receded to about five feet in that part of the city.
The appeal came over the telephone to the state-house that unless boats were sent at once from some part of the stricken district the human loss would be tremendous. This evening it develops that the rescue from this square was complete.
"The Beckel building, immediately across the street, was on fire at noon, but the flames were put out. Howard, from the Home Telephone building, reported that the roof was black with people standing guard over their safety point. South of the stricken square is another wholesale section, and it developed that about thirty-five women and children were in several of the buildings.
"About 3 o’clock the flames leaped across Third street and attacked the square bounded by Third, Fourth, Jefferson and St. Clair streets. Lowe Brothers’ paint store was destroyed, and another tremendous sacrifice in human life was imminent. Fifteen men in the Home Telephone building succeeded, however, in rescuing the women and children by the aid of a block and tackle, getting them into the Beaver Power building, a fireproof structure, where they are tonight.
"Instructions have been given from Columbus to the militia in the southern part of Dayton to give vigilant eye to the fire district, and if the flames start in the direction of the Home Telephone building and the Beaver Power building to risk passage through the turbulent river, which is now running through the city, with boats.
"Tomorrow morning at daylight fifty boats will go into the business district of South Park. The naval militia with 100 boats leaves Toledo for Dayton.
"We are unable to get any accurate idea of the loss of life at Hamilton. Both that place and Middletown are so completely isolated that we fear the worst.
"In Columbus the situation has improved. The Scioto is receding. It is feared that when the waters have left the western part of the city a considerable loss of life will be revealed. Almost within sight of the Capitol building three men, two women and a child have been hanging to a tree for over twenty-four hours, and yet the waters are too swift to make their rescue possible.
JAMES M. Cox,
On Thursday afternoon Governor Cox received a message from George F. Burba, his secretary, over the long distance telephone.
The secretary said:
"If the death list in Dayton is only 1,000 I will consider it a marvelous dispensation. If it is 10,000 I will not be surprised.
[Luckily Mr. Burba’s fears in this respect were not realized.—Editor.]
"Horrible as this is," he said, "the real suffering will grow worse for days. There are 70,000 homeless."
A message to the Governor later in the day from a marooned telephone operator, the only means thus far found of communicating with Dayton, said the fire in the center of the city was virtually under control. The blizzard which started early in the morning, however, still raged.
Mr. Burba, who made a hazardous trip to Dayton, reported that the property loss would amount to $50,000,000.
For three days the tireless executive officer of the State had been doing the work of a dozen men, laboring from daylight to long past midnight to succor the unfortunates of Ohio. His hand guided everything done in the work of rescue, and on Thursday, with the knowledge that this task was for the most part accomplished, he turned his attention to new problems of preventing epidemics, safeguarding life and property and relieving the sufferings of surviving flood victims and the care of the dead.
The hero of the Dayton disaster, John A. Bell, the telephone official who, marooned in a business block, had been keeping Governor Cox informed every half hour of conditions in the stricken city and delivering orders through boatmen who rowed to his window, called the statehouse at daybreak Thursday and greeted the executive with a cheery "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 for two days in a fire engine house, but was found and rescued at the request of Governor Cox through the efforts of Bell. When the General was taken to the telephone building he received orders from the Governor to take charge of the troops as they arrived and make 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 General Wood was that asking for coffins and food. He said several hundred bodies were in sight and that he feared that the death list was larger than they had thought.
The naval militia were 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.
The appeals for relief met with generous response from all parts of the country, the West as well as the East wiring that funds were being sent, The Governor put the relief work on a systematic basis by appointing a commission, of which, under the rules of the Red Cross, he became chairman.
The members were John H. Patterson, of Dayton; Homer H. Johnson, of Cleveland; Jacob Schmidlapp, of Cincinnati; S. D. Richardson, of Toledo, and George W. Lattimer, of Columbus. Colonel W. M. Wilson, of the National Guard Pay Department, was named as treasurer and opened headquarters in the Secretary of State’s office, where one of the first donations received was $7,500 from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce.
A telegram from President Wilson announced that the Secretary of War had been directed to proceed to the flood districts to extend every possible assistance to the sufferers.
James T. Jackson, of Cleveland, representing the Red Cross, on March 27, and soon afterward the Governor, issued proclamations announcing the situation in the flood district and urging that money be forwarded as the best means for affording prompt relief because of the crippled conditions of railroads.
Sightseers of Springfield, who sought to visit Dayton March 27, received a shock. On the first train to the stricken city from Springfield were fifty linemen and three coaches full of people on a sightseeing tour.
The Governor learned of this, and on his orders, when the train reached Dayton, two soldiers were stationed at each car door and none but linemen were permitted to alight. The train was then run back to Springfield with its disappointed passengers.
The Governor then ordered guardsmen at Springfield to let none board trains for Dayton who did not have a military pass. The purpose in this was to prevent idle visitors draining the limited food resources of Dayton.
Dynamite, gasoline and lime were sent from Springfield as supplies for the sanitation corps ordered there to prevent the spread of disease and the feared epidemic. The dynamite was used to blow up dangerous obstructions, the gasoline to burn rubbish and the lime for disinfecting purposes.
Phoneton, O., (by telephone from Dayton), March 27.—Rescue work efficiently managed and in which John H. Patterson, president of the National Cash Register Company, was a leading spirit, was begun today. Missing members of families were restored to their loved ones through human clearing houses established at several points on the fringe of the flood district. Great ledgers, filled with names, and presided over by volunteer bank clerks, were at the disposal of persons seeking missing kinsmen.
Dayton is devastated. No one can even estimate whether beneath the yellow sea that is seething through the city may sleep 1,000 drowned or 100.
No one can picture the situation. Dayton is a marine inferno. Fires lighted the sky all night and early to-day, illuminate the rushing waters, and the swish of rain and swirl of currents sounded a sibilant requiem for the unknown and the uncounted dead.
Think of 50,000 persons jammed in the upper floors of their homes, no gas, no fresh water, no light, no heat, no food!
President Patterson of the National Cash Register Company has 150 carpenters building boats. He himself has saved numbers of lives.
An appeal for help was sent out by Mr. Patterson, who, after a conference with the local and relief committees, issued the following:
"An awful catastrophe has overtaken Dayton. The levee has broken. The center of Dayton and the residence districts from the fair grounds hill to the high ground north of the city, are under water. Some of our buildings are used for shelter for the homeless and sick on the South Side. Food is needed.
"Potatoes, rice, beans, vegetables, meats and bread and any other edibles that will sustain life will be acceptable.
"We have cooking arrangements for several thousand. We are sending trucks to near-by towns, but ask that you haul to us, as far as possible."
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman