In the presence of a great disaster the human mind is appalled, the human tongue is silent save in supplication for aid, and the human pen is often paralyzed.
Words utterly fail to express the emotions aroused by man’s contemplation of one of Nature’s cataclysms. Even at a distance, in space or in time, it is difficult rightly to interpret, in spoken or written language, the full significance of the event; while immediately after the horror, with a hundred million people anxiously awaiting definite news from the scene of disaster, it is difficult for the press to convey a correct view of ravages wrought by the mighty agencies of death and damage that are unloosed at times by an inscrutable Providence.
The lapse of a few days, sometimes a few weeks, is required, as a rule, before a comprehensive viewpoint can be secured, so that all the facts of an appalling disaster may be properly marshaled for public information. Early reports of death and damage are often exaggerated and misleading. Hence the value of a volume such as is here presented, which will serve as a permanent and reliable record of the events chronicled.
The disastrous floods in the Valley of the Ohio pass into history as unprecedented in the United States in their danger to human life and the extent of damage done. Following so closely after the Omaha tornado of March 23, which laid a goodly portion of that city in ruins, the news of devastation in Ohio stunned the entire nation and commanded the sympathy of the civilized world. Reaching "almost Asiatic magnitude," the floods caused disaster on an almost Asiatic scale, particularly shocking to American consciousness because of their occurrence in the heart of a great, wealthy, civilized and highly efficient nation instead of in remote parts of the Celestial Empire, where human life is perhaps held cheaper and the sacrifice of life by raging rivers has lost some of its terror by frequent occurrence.
The facts of the twin disasters—the Ohio flood and the Omaha tornado—are presented to the public in this volume, first, as a record of two remarkable natural occurrences, well worthy of permanent chronicling in book form, and, second, because of public demands for a memento in permanent shape of events that have spread sorrow, mourning, and distress over a large portion of our commercially prosperous and happily fertile Middle West.
The heartfelt sympathy of the whole American people has gone out to those bereft of friends or kin in these cataclysmic disasters. The practical lessons of floods and tornado are yet to be learned and they may be full of value to living citizens of the states affected and to generations yet to come. The lessons of St. Louis and Omaha should teach us that our cities are not yet wind-proof. We are constantly striving to make them fire-proof, but our efforts so far have been only partially successful, as the tremendous fire damage bill of the United States demonstrates annually. And never as yet have our homes, our towns and our cities been made proof against flood. The Johnstown horror and the Galveston tidal wave have now been followed by even worse destruction by uncontrolled waters in the Middle West. Surely a lesson of precaution will be learned now and laid to heart wherever the mighty powers of water are dammed up by human means that may fail under the pressure of a moment and endanger the lives of a whole city full.
The best preparation for protection against possible disaster is accurate and specific knowledge of the facts in similar cases. Comparison and analysis of such facts enable the engineer and the builder to plan more efficiently for protection of life and property against tempest, fire and flood. Results known to have followed given causes can be safeguarded against by the removal of the causes. Dangers that have engulfed some communities living under certain physical conditions can be provided against by others when wisdom and experience work hand in hand.
And so, as the public attention is riveted on one great disaster after another, it is the part of wisdom to seek out the causes by a close study of the facts. The facts of the Ohio deluge and the destructive wind of Omaha are here presented, therefore, in the hope that many communities may profit by the lessons they teach, and safeguard themselves, so far as is humanly possible, by wise, forethoughtful preparation, against similar disasters to themselves in future.
Especially does this apply to villages, towns and cities that are threatened or likely to be threatened by flood—and it is generally understood that there are many such dangerous centers of population throughout the country. Some measure of provision against possible disaster, some measure of preparation to alleviate possible distress, should surely be undertaken by all communities with surroundings or conditions that threaten life and property. And if the publication of this recital of the facts of recent horrifying events leads to the better protection of any community against the fatal dangers of storm and flood, the efforts of the chronicler will not have been expended in vain.
Chicago, April 2, 1913. T. H. R.
"Rock of Ages"
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman