Titusville and Oil City, PA Oil Creek Disaster, Jun 1892

An eye witness at the time of the first explosion stood at the east end of the bridge. Almost as quickly as the words can be written fully 5000 persons in that portion of the town were on the streets, wild with terror, rushing to the hills. Men forgot that they were men, and scores of men, women, and children were knocked down and trampled upon both by horses and persons in the mad flight for safety.
Just as this frantic throng had started up Centre street a second explosion occurred, knocking many people down, shattering the windows in the main part of the town, and almost transforming the day to night with an immense covering of smoke. Hundreds thought the day of judgment had come and many prayers were heard mingled with moans and lamentations. The heat was intense, and the awful spectacle presented to the panic stricken people was that of a cloudburst of fire, bordered and overcapped by a great canopy of dense black smoke.
It was no wonder that people wept and fainted, leaving everything behind them and ran or were helped to the hills. And after they were out of danger, and even before it, came the anxiety and suspense regarding relatives and friends who had been along the creek watching the flood when the avalanche of flame came. The flood in the Oil Creek Valley had inundated the upper portion of the town, flooding from fifty to seventy-five houses on North Seneca Street. Most of the inmates reached places of safety by the use of boats or by swimming and wading, but some of them were yet in the upper stories or in the water when the fire came, and their fate was quickly sealed. Some of them were seen to jump into the water to escape death in the flames. From the remnants of the only building remaining in the waste after the flood was over three persons were removed in a boat severely burned, but alive, namely MRS. HAWK and daughter and MR. HASSENFRITZ. The distillate and benzine on the creek came from a tank lifted by the flood, and is supposed to have been ignited by a spark from an engine on the Lake Shore road, just above the tunnel at the northern part of the city. The fire shot up the creek as well as down, and several tanks were set on fire up the creek. The Bellevue Hotel, the Petroleum House, the Oil City barrel factory, the new building of the Oil City tube works, the big furniture and undertaking establishment of G. Paul & Sons, and probably 100 other dwelling house have been totally destroyed.
Meadville, Penn., was swept by the worst flood in its history. A midday rain of great volume swelled every stream bank full, and the storm which followed in the evening brought the flood. In Meadville, Mill Run overflowed its banks and swept the whole business portion of the city, demolishing a dozen or more buildings and entailing a total loss of $150,000, of which $50,000 is to the streets. The loss throughout the country cannot be estimated now. Bridges were washed away in every direction, leaving scarcely passable roads in the country. The damage to growing crops is heavy.
The most destructive rainstorm that has ever visited Corry, Penn., and vicinity began in the afternoon at 3 o'clock. It was like a heavy cloudburst and by 9 o'clock the business portion of the town was under water. The worst was reached at 11 o'clock when First avenue, Main street, the railroad yards and Centre street were like roaring rivers, the water being from one to three feet deep, and all emptying into the flats in the eastern portion of the city.
Sidewalks are carried away and the roads in places gullied from four to six feet deep. Nearly every basement in the business part of the city was flooded and also many of the stores. The loss on stock to merchants is heavy. It is safe to say that the loss throughout the city will reach $50,000. The storm was general throughout that locality.
The property loss will reach far into the millions. At Titusville the loss is estimated at $1,500,000: Oil City, $1,500,000; Corry, $60,000; Meadville, $150,000, and surrounding country probably a million more.
Of the devastated cities Titusville has a population of 10,000 and Oil City 12,000. Oil Creek rises in the north part of Crawford County and flows in a general southerly direction to Titusville, and from there almost due north to the Allegheny River at Oil City. Just below Titusville it is joined by East Oil or Pine Creek. Between Titusville and Oil City there are nine little hamlets where oil wells have been sunk which have attained the dignity of Post Offices. Altogether these hamlets have a population of about 2,000. The eighteen miles between Titusville and Oil City probably represent a polulation of from 40,000 to 45,000.

LATER DETAILS.
The loss of life and destruction of property in Oil Creek Valley, Penn., were far greater than was stated in the first reports.
At Oil City sixty-seven bodies were recovered in one day, and it was believed that not less than 150 persons perished by flood and fire.
At Titusville fifty-five bodies were found in the ruins, and there was every reason to believe that many were washed away and will be recovered when the water recedes.
The latest estimate of the total loss of life placed the number at 350.
Calls for financial help are made by both cities, and a generous response has already been received. Several hundred thousand dollars at least will be needed.
One-third of Titusville has been destroyed by the combined horrors of fire and flood, and $1,000,000 will not cover the property loss.
It was impossible at the time this dispatch was received to estimate the loss of life and property in the Oil Creek Valley, outside of Titusville and Oil City.
Twenty-nine miles of the creek banks on either side were laid waste.

The Cranbury Press New Jersey 1892-06-10