COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio officials are using the 100th anniversary of a devastating and deadly flood to encourage residents to prepare for potential high water emergencies by reviewing their response plans and insurance coverage.
On the heels of the state and national Flood Safety Awareness Week, today marks the centennial of the 1913 storms that rolled through the Midwest and hung over the Ohio Valley for several days, creating the state's worst weather disaster.
Several days of rain flooded all of Ohio's rivers and streams and more than 35,000 homes, and left at least 400 people dead in the state, or perhaps 600 by some estimates. It washed away or damaged docks, bridges, railroads and trains, wreaking havoc from Cincinnati to Portsmouth to Cleveland and hindering efforts to get aid to damaged areas. Levees broke, drenching various cities and leaving parts of Dayton and Columbus with 10 feet of water or more.
"There's nothing to prevent a storm like this from occurring again," said Sarah Jamison, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. "Mother Nature has her own way of dealing with things, so it's our role to try to be prepared and react appropriately to that."
The system, which led to significant flooding in more than a dozen states, from Illinois through Connecticut, stands out not just because of how much rain fell but also because it encompassed such a large geographic area, said Jamison, who studied the flood and found many Ohioans know little about it.
"It's really fascinating to think, 'How did the collective mindset really not remember this event?' It's an answer I don't have," said Jamison, part of the Ohio Silver Jackets, a group of local, state and federal representatives focused on flood control.
In hard-hit southwest Ohio, the disaster spurred a regional pursuit of solutions to area flood problems and eventually led to the Miami Conservancy District, which focuses on flood protection, water quality and promoting recreation along waterways in the Great Miami River Watershed. The area's flood protection system was designed to protect against flooding even more severe than what happened in 1913.
Angela Manuszak, the district's special projects coordinator, calls it a tale of resilience and sacrifice for the benefit of the larger community and says many families in the area have passed down stories about the flood. She has one, too -- a tidbit about how her grandfather helped with the cleanup as part of the Ohio National Guard out of Toledo and later kept in his home a "very uncomfortable Victorian chair" supposedly taken from the floodwaters.