Kansas City, MO Flood, May 1903


Fire Adds to the Peril of Flood – Fifteen Lives Reported Lost.

KANSAS CITY, Mo., May 31. – Yesterday’s calamity at Topeka, Kan., was duplicated on a smaller scale here to-day, when flood and fire destroyed life and property. Fifteen persons have been drowned in the west bottoms during the day. Because of the difficulty of recovering the bodies identification of most of the dead is impossible.

Twelve bodies were counted as they floated past during the day. In nearly every instance they were lying across pieces of wreckage. On the roof of a cabin that came swirling down could be seen the body of a woman and her child. The dead as reported are as follows:
RUDDY, THOMAS, manager of the Ruddy Brothers’ Packing Company, drowned while engaged in relief work near the Schwarzschild & Sulzberger plant.
DEERMAN, JAMES, drowned on Osage Avenue.
UNKNOWN MAN with two children; drowned at Mill and Osage Avenue.
UNKNOWN WOMAN; dead in a mass of drift.
HERBERT, WILLIAM, and two other persons; drowned at Second and Osage Avenue.
Three men and two women were drowned by the capsizing of a boat near the Union Pacific bridge.
A man on a Belt Line engine, which was surrounded by water and was seen to disappear.

To add to the horors (sic) of the situation fire broke out in the flood district to-day, and at 6 o’clock this evening eight distinct fires are burning there between three blocks west of the Union Station and Toad-a-Loup, the latter a settlement near Armourdale. It is impossible to reach any of the fires as communication is cut off. The fires were viewed through a field glass from the top of a high building on the bluff.

The most serious blaze of the day broke out in some cars standing opposite the west end of the Union Depot. The flames ran rapidly from car to car, and within three hours thirty of them had been destroyed. Among them were several oil tanks, which threatened great damage to everything in their vicinity. The wind carried the great sheets of flame toward the south and the current here carried patches of blazing oil downstream. Fortunately there was an open space directly north of this fire, which afforded egress for the burning oil, and it was carried swiftly out to the river.

While this blaze was at its height, frantic cries for help came from the vicinity of the fire, but the man who shouted them could not be located. Unless the author of the cries saved himself, an unknown man went down to death with hundreds of people close at hand and utterly unable to lend a hand to aid him.

There were rumors that the total number of deaths in the wholesale district of the city during the latter part of the day will reach as high as fifty, but there is no direct evidence of this and no possible way of determining the facts to-night. Directly south of the viaduct stood a large warehouse. Close to it stood a number of cars loaded with lime, and at 5 o’clock they were all ablaze, and with them went the warehouse and all it contained. The damage in this fire could not be less than $100,000.

The other fires were scattered over a district five miles long by three miles wide, and in every instance are supposed to be lime cars. It was impossible to approach within a mile of them, but none was large.

Shortly after noon the Third Regiment, Missouri National Guard, 800 strong, was ordered out, both as a precautionary measure and to stop looting.

A great body of water coming from the west swelled the Kansas River at Kansas City, Kan., this morning, causing a most alarming rise. Waters rushed with terrific force over the outlying railroad tracks and the crowded wholesale districts of the west bottoms, and finally into the Union Depot. At 10 o’clock a mile of wholesale houses, elevators, and freight depots were entirely surrounded, basements that yesterday were partially submerged were soon brimful, and water began to reach the first floors. Within fifteen minutes tracks entering the western end of the Union Depot were entirely submerged, and at 11 o’clock the water had risen at such a rapid rate that the thousands of delayed passengers were making preparations to leave for the high ground.

Union Avenue, on which the Blossom House and numerous smaller hotels, restaurants, and stores are located, is a running steam. Trains that have been waiting in the depot for hours for an opportunity to start west and south stand a foot deep in water.

At 12:30 o’clock a force of police began ordering out of the main waiting room of the Union Depot the hundreds or persons awaiting outgoing trains. Many went to the second floor, which under any condition will be safe, but the crowds were so great that a majority of the people could not find room there, and were forced to go up town. By 1 o’clock a half foot of water covered the waiting room, and the ticket office, telegraph office, and baggage and express offices were soon flooded.