Bluefield, WV Elkhorn Creek Flood, Jun 1901


Hundreds of Lives Lost and Millions in Property Destroyed – Several Villages Swept Away, Their Inhabitants Drowned in Some Instances with Scarcely an Escape -- The Most Dreadful Catastrophe in the State's History.

BLUEFIELD, West Virginia, June 24. --- The sun rose this morning upon a scene of the utmost desolation. In every direction nothing is seen but evidences of wreck and ruin. The awful downpour of Friday and Saturday has caused a tremendous property loss that runs well into the millions. The loss of life, while not so great as at first reported, will number over 100 and it will be days before all the missing can be accounted for.
The disaster began with a heavy rain storm Friday afternoon, sweeping away bridges and destroying miles of railway track foundations. The people then felt no alarm, but Saturday night the storm came on again with greater intensity and shortly after midnight the elements seemed to be let loose. Thunder roared, lightning flashed and the rain came down in torrents.
The topography of the country is hilly. In the valleys are several coal mining settlements and in short order the floods that poured down upon them swept the houses and their inmates to wreck and death.
The Elkhorn creek which fed numerous basins was swelled in an hour into a roaring torrent. On its crest rode miner's cabins, parts of bridges, and an occasional body of a woman or a child. Many of the people had fled to the hills Friday night, but scores were caught in the seething floods and met their death.
The town of Keystone, a flourishing little village, was swept out of existence. The coal mines in the vicinity were destroyed and the men on guard drowned. Twenty-eight miles of railroad track and everything in its path was swept away. The loss to the Norfolk & Eastern railway is enormous.
The flood came down suddenly Saturday morning on Shakrege, a negro settlement, and in an hour the little village was under six feet of water and nearly every one living there was killed.
The big VANDYKE farm was destroyed and the entire family --- father, mother and four children --- were drowned.
Cattle and horses were drowned by the hundreds. The fury of the storm was without a parallel in the history of the State. The first reports indicated that 500 lives had been lost, but this was exaggerated. All day yesterday the missing turned up. This morning forty bodies had been recovered. Pathetic and tragic scenes were numerous. Hundreds are homeless and the suffering among the living today is frightful. Many are on the brink of starvation.
The storm swept district covers an area of thirty miles and the wreck will be old before the number of lives sacrificed can be positively accertained [sic] . It is known, however, that the property loss in the Elkhorn district will be considerably more that $2,000,000.

ROANOKE, W. Va., June 24. --- The first passenger train from the flooded district arrived this morning, and on it were many refugees from the devasted [sic] coal fields of West Virginia. Many of them walked a dozen miles to secure railroad communication.
The telegraphic stories of the scenes of Friday and Saturday nights and yesterday, they say are beggarly descriptions, but declare the accounts of loss of life is exaggerated. They say 100 may cover the number of the drowned.
The greatest disaster was at Vivian. The people, however, were warned in time and escaped the flood by flying to the hills.

HUNTINGTON, W. V., June 24. --- Late reports place death list at 1000. Newspaper men who reached here from a portion of the affected district say there is nothing to bear out the rumor.
Governor WHITE says he fears the death list of the Elkhorn flood will be over 1000 and possibly reach 2000.

Daily Journal Colorado 1901-06-24