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Johnstown Flood (1889)

  • By: J. J. McIntyre
  • In: Encyclopedia of Disaster Relief
  • Edited by: K. Bradley Penuel & Matt Statler
  • Subject:Public Health (general), Public Policy (general)

On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam broke about 15 miles upstream from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The resulting flood rushed down the narrow river valley and decimated the thriving industrial town, killing over 2,000 people. The circumstances and events surrounding the flood remain powerful lessons for those who study crisis events.

The earth dam on Conemaugh Creek (which grew to be Lake Conemaugh), was originally constructed by engineers to hold 10 feet of water. The reserve of water was intended to aid water transportation on the Conemaugh River for riverboats. However, railroads eventually replaced the river as a way to transport goods such as the coal and iron produced in the town. Eventually, the railroad purchased the dam, but maintained it poorly by fixing it with ...

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