Johnstown, PA Flood, May 1889
The plane in which sat Johnstown, sits in the mountains like a jewel in the queen's diadem. The great Gautier Steel works sat in this plain, and the city below it, the railroad tracks bounding it at the base of the mountains on the north. Here is where the trains were standing when the tide of water like a catapult came down on them with such resistless force that the heavy trains, locomotives, Pullmans and all were overturned and swept down the torrent, and were lodged against the great viaduct along with forty-one locomotives from the Johnstown roundhouse, the heavy machinery and ponderous frame work of the Gautier mill, the accumulated debris of more than a thousand houses, furniture, bridges, lumber, drift and human beings.
The low arches of the stone viaduct choked up immediately, and the water backed over the entire level of the valley, upon which the city stood, to the depth of what from the water works indicate about thirty-eight feet. In the great sea thus formed hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were struggling for life. The scene today is one of the most harrowing possible for the imagination of man to conceive.
The accumulated drift gorged up at the viaduct to a height of forty feet, and there took fire from the upsetting of stoves or lamps. Then were strong men made sick at the sight. As the flames crackled and roared among the dry tinder of the floating house human bodies were seen pinioned between the house roofs, locomotives, from beams, freight passenger, Pullman and baggage cars, heavy iron beams, the greedy flames licking with haste their diet of human flesh. The scene was horrible beyond description.
From infancy a few days old to the wated figures of age, were burned before the eyes of the beholders, and no rescue from such a fate was possible. Strong men turned away with agonized expressions and women shrieked at the horror of the scene. The dead have been computed at not less than 8,000, and the number may even exceed that estimate. This seems incredible, but until the waters will have abated and the work of removing the dead from this tremendous mass has been completed it will be impossible to tell how many lives have been lost.
There is no possibility of tolling just who has been last, as thousands are missing. The survivors, many of whom tell of the most thrilling escapes from collections of debris, house roofs, car doors and plants, seek the banks and gaze with stupor, born of paralyzation of their mental facilities from fright and horror they have been subjected to.
The number of people who are visible from the banks are so few in contrast with the population of the various little boroughs which constitute the city that the question, "Where are the people?" is asked on all sides.
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