Main Street of Johnstown in the flood’s immediate aftermath.
One-hundred twenty years ago today the Johnstown Flood killed 2209 people. The bodies of 900 victims were never recovered.
As with Hurricane Katrina, the Pennsylvania flood had both natural and human origins. A powerful storm delivered six to ten inches of rain in twenty-four hours. Then the natural deluge overwhelmed a neglected dam 14 milles upstream from Johnstown.
At 3:10 in the afternoon the dam failed releasing twenty million tons of water. The wall of water was traveling roughly 40 miles per hour as it inundated the city under 60 feet of water.
Concern regarding the dam’s integrity had been raised by several parties, but no action had been undertaken. The natural cause could not be prevented, but was entirely predictable. The catastrophic consequence was entirely man-made.