The 1913 flood was one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the United States. The impact it had on the state of Ohio was immense, in terms of total amount of flooding and loss of life. Tom Rieder, a reference librarian at the Ohio Historical Society has sifted through much of the detailed records regarding the 1913 flood and is aware of a great deal of information on the subject.
Question: Is the 1913 flood the worst natural disaster that Ohio has ever faced in your opinion, and why or why not?
Answer:Yes, it was the worst that Ohio has ever faced. It was a rare weather event where heavy rainfall fell on both sides of the Ohio Watershed. Rivers and streams that flow into Lake Erie and the Ohio River were both greatly affected.
Q: This storm impacted other states, but Ohio was one of the worst hit. Why was that?
A: Ohio is kind of unique in the sense that a number of its cities were population centers that were heavily industrialized. Many of the areas had cleared trees and other ground cover that helps reduce the impact of runoff. That's why Dayton was impacted so much because it went through a rapid growth period just before this flood. When the heavy rains came all three rivers overflowed and spilled into the city causing some very severe damage.
Q: What communities were hit worst by this natural disaster?
A: In the Scioto River Valley, Columbus, Chilocothe and Portsmouth were the worst affected. In the Great and Little Miami River valleys Dayton, Hamilton and Cincinnati were hit hard by the flooding. The Muskingum River affected Zanesville and Marietta while the Sandusky River Valley hit Tiffin and Freemont. All of these cities were hit quite hard by the flood waters in terms of damage done. As far as a death toll went Dayton, Columbus and Hamilton were three of the worst affected cities.
Q: Were there any cities that never fully recovered?
A: The city of Hamilton took as long as three years to rebuild all of its bridges, but all of the cities eventually recovered. Some smaller towns may never have been the same, but they were eventually rebuilt to some extent as well. The town of Lowell for example was completely underwater and the telephone exchange was destroyed.
Q: Did the flood affect communities that weren't close to rivers and water sources, and how so?
A: Yes, it did affect these communities because they became isolated. As the ground became saturated telephone and telegraph poles toppled. Many areas couldn't travel in any direction because surrounding areas were completely flooded. They were exposed to a lack of communication and resources and in some cases had to help with refugees from other areas.
Q: How did the governor handle this disaster?
A: Gov. Cox called up the National Guard for both relief efforts and to maintain public safety. He actually declared martial law in Zanesville and Dayton. The state's resources were directed toward sanitation and relief efforts and he was a supporter of using the Red Cross as a principle distributor of disaster relief.
Q: How long did it take for things to return to normal in the state?
A: It basically took the rest of 1913 for cities to get back on their feet.
This interview was conducted by Christian Hudspeth.