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1883 - Louisville Suddenly Deluged. An Embankment Burst At Midnight And One-Fifth Of The City Flooded.

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Louisville, Ky., Feb. 13. - During the past 24 hours the Ohio River, by bursting through cut-offs and pouring over embankments, has completely submerged one-fifth of the area of this City. At least 7,000 or 8,000 people have been driven from their homes, and the loss by actual destruction of property, to say nothing of that from the stoppage of foundries and manufactories, is fully $800,000. To explain the situation fully it is necessary to state that the northeastern part of the city lying north of main Street and east of First, is on a level with the river when at average height, and it has been supposed hitherto to be protected from the flood by an embankment high enough to withstand even an extraordinary rise. This portion of the city is called “The Point,” and is inhabited mostly by laboring people. Scattered here and there among the cottages of the inhabitants are most of the large manufacturing establishments of the city.

At midnight last night the embankment which formed the only protection to this square mile of densely people territory gave way in several places simultaneously, and the immense body of water came down with tremendous force, sweeping everything before it. People who entered their houses on dry ground and went to bed in apparent safety awoke to find the water in the second stories. The frailer of the buildings were lifted from their foundations, carried, in some instances, a hundred rods and deposited against some other structure or left upside down in the midst of a sea of waters. Thirty-five squares were covered inside of a half hour to a depth of from 10 to 30 feet. It is impossible to state how many lives were lost, but it is feared that the number will prove great. Many men escaped by swimming. Several women with babies in their arms waded for squares before they reached places of security. At least 30 people of all ages and sexes were rescued from trees into which they had climbed. Hundred of domestic animals were drowned, and this to the people of “The Point” made a large item in the aggregate loss. It was impossible last night to gain any information either as to the extent of the damage or as to the condition of the sufferers, but this morning, with the first streak of daylight, the inundated region was alive with boats filled with relief parties. All night long large bonfires had been kept blazing on the edge of the flood, and hundreds of people availed themselves of the warmth. This morning ever available craft on the river was in active demand, and many families paid $10, and even $15, for the use of a boat for an hour or two to transport their furniture out of the reach of the water. Improvised rafts of doors, parts of fences, drift-wood, plank, and logs were to be seen in every direction, all freighted either with household goods or with people.

The Time’s correspondent secured a skiff and made a complete tour of the entire flooded district. The entry from the river was made by rowing directly over the roof of a two-story frame boarding-house, of which the chimneys alone were visible. On the left the smoke-stack of an engine belonging to the Haroldsburg Railroad was to be seen about two feet above the water. Five cars on the track behind it were completely submerged. Here and there a chimney protruded above the water. On every other chimney was a cat, yelling with fright. At Dennis Long’s pipe foundry, where 500 men left their work at 4 o’clock yesterday, expecting to renew it this morning, there was four feet of water over the floor. A little further up a church was reached, of which the spire and about two feet of the roof was all that was visible. This church had served as a check to several dwelling-houses, barns, and stables, and eight or ten of these were heaped up in every manner of grotesque shapes behind it. Above the church, on the left, is Letterle’s huge slaughter-house, which was thrown open as a refuge to the people driven from their homes. In this filthy place no less than 500 women and children were huddles together in wet clothes, hungry, and crying piteously for relief. Directly across from the slaughter-house the Time’s correspondent found a family of eight-an old woman, the mother, and six children-confined in a garret so low that the children could barely stand upright, and the water was up to their knees. Two by two they were taken out and carried to the slaughter-house. The old woman said they had been overlooked by relief boats, and she tried to tell her feelings as she saw the water creep up, inch by inch, upon her, with apparently no hope of relief. Further on a bridge was met floating down stream, in the center of which was a fine Alderney cow and two pigs.

Soon the scene of the break in the cut-off was reached, and from this point, where yesterday all was dry land, nothing but water was to be seen for a half-mile in each direction. The water-works, which stand on a high bluff, looked like some mammoth steam-boat standing stationary in the water. From this point the boat turned down Fulton Street, usually a handsome, well-paved avenue. Now the water was clear above the lamp-posts, and in the first house two men were rowing a boat into a second-story window to get out furniture. At a corner grocery, the proprietor sat astride the roof, coolly watching for the boxes of various articles which from time to time would be washed out from below and fishing them in with a long stick. Two squares further down, an entire lumber-yard, afloat, was found moving slowly but systematically in the direction of the current. The Police in this part of the city were covering their beats in sculls, and on the sharp lookout for thieves, who last night committed many depredations. The currents around the corners were very swift, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the boat avoided being swamped several times. The last thing before leaving the skiff at 2 o’clock, The Times’s correspondent was rowed to the building of Capt. Levi, on which are registered the high water marks of the floods of 1847 and 1832. The former was completely covered and the latter was 7 inches above the water. Since that time the water has been rising at the rate of an inch an hour and before morning the greatest flood on record will be eclipsed.

It is still cloudy and raining hard at 7 o’clock to-night. There are grave apprehensions of another break at Portland, the western suburb of the city, which is already half flooded, and if it should occur the scenes of last night will be repeated. This calamity, however, cannot occur until near morning, and may be averted, should the river come to a stand. Mayor Jacobs has been constantly at work without rest since noon yesterday, trying to give relief to the sufferers. Several thousand dollars; worth of food was distributed today. The Times’s correspondent met the Mayor late to-night. He was worn out and dripping wet from head to foot. He said by to-morrow night he hoped to have nearly all the sufferers comfortable. The churches, public buildings, and hospitals are all thrown open, and a large force of men is at work dispensing supplies. Railroad communication by all roads east is cut off, except by the Ohio and Mississippi, which is transferring its passengers from Aurora, Ind., to Cincinnati by steamer. The situation of New-Albany and Jeffersonville, the towns directly across the river, is almost exactly a duplicate of that in Louisville, and much suffering and heavy damage has resulted.


The New York Times
New York, New York
February 14, 1883

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Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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