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The Johnstown Flood 31st May 1889


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  • Location: Camborne
  • Location: Camborne

The Johnstown Flood (or Great Flood of 1889 as it became known locally) occurred on May 31, 1889. It was the result of the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam situated 14 miles (23 km) upstream of the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA, made worse by several days of extremely heavy rainfall. The dam's failure unleashed a torrent of 20 million tons of water (4.8 billion U.S. gallons; 18.2 million cubic meters; 18.2 billion litres). The flood killed 2,209 people and caused US$17 million of damage. It was the first major disaster relief effort handled by the new American Red Cross, led by Clara Barton. Support for victims came from all over the United States and 18 foreign countries. After the flood, victims suffered a series of legal defeats in their attempt to recover damages from the dam's owners. Public indignation at that failure prompted a major development in American law—state courts' move from a fault-based regime to strict liability


The scale of the Johnstown flood of 1889 is hard to imagine. Summarizing the flood's impact in statistics and facts is a quick way to convey the enormity of the event. Here is a list of some of the most descriptive facts about the Johnstown flood.

• 2,209 people died

• 99 entire families died, including 396 children

• 124 women and 198 men were left widowed.

• More than 750 victims were never identified and rest in the Plot of the Unknown in Grandview Cemetery

• Bodies were found as far away as Cincinnati, and as late as 1911

• 1,600 homes were destroyed

• $17 million in property damage was done

• Four square miles of downtown Johnstown were completely destroyed

• The pile of debris at the stone bridge covered 30 acres

• The distance between the dam that failed and Johnstown was 14 miles.

• The dam was owned by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, an exclusive club that counted Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick among its members

• The dam contained 20 million tons of water before it gave way, about the same amount of water as goes over Niagara Falls in 36 minutes

• Flood lines were found as high as 89 feet above river level

• The great wave measured 35-40 feet high and hit Johnstown at 40 miles per hour

• The force of the flood swept several locomotives weighing 170,000 pounds as far as 4,800 feet

• $3,742,818.78 was collected for the Johnstown relief effort from within the U.S. and 18 foreign countries

• The American Red Cross, led by Clara Barton and organized in 1881, arrived in Johnstown on June 5, 1889 - it was the first major peacetime disaster relief effort for the Red Cross..

• Johnstown has suffered additional significant floods in its history, including in 1936 and 1977.


For the definitive narrative.


Some photos of the flood courtesy The Library of Congress collection.

Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-17535


Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-17539


Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-17542


Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-17541


Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-17544


Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-17537


Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-17546


Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-17554


Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-17534


Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-94717


Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-94720


Edited by knocker
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