The Catastrophic Event
By March of 1936, those living in Western Pennsylvania were eager to put the bleak days of winter behind them. This was especially true since the region had been covered by a thick blanket of snow throughout most of January and February.
On Monday, March 16th, the temperature climbed to well above the fifty degree mark. When the precipitation started to fall as rain, it seemed like a welcome change. With the warmer air, it wasn't long before the snow and ice in the higher elevations began to melt. Local weather forecasters predicted this and warned of possible flooding along the rivers and streams. However, the remnants of a long cold winter melted much faster than anticipated.
In the cities and towns along the Monongahela, the Allegheny, and the Ohio Rivers, people were waking up on March 17th to find the devastation. It was recorded that the city of Pittsburgh witnessed flooding that reached a flood stage of twenty-five feet. The shocking news of flood water climbing to second and third floors of downtown buildings began to spread across the nation. This disaster aptly became known as The Great St. Patrick's Day Flood.
Along with the melting snow, a series of overnight thunderstorms added to the chaos. By the morning of March 18, the river water that had spilled into the streets of Pittsburgh peaked at forty-six feet. The flooding remained at twenty-one feet above flood stage for five days. Finally, on March 21st, the water receded. All across the region, people were now facing the hard road to recovery.
In the aftermath of the flood, it was estimated that more that sixty lives had been lost and five hundred others were injured. The number of homes and businesses that were destroyed reached into the thousands. Even the mighty steel mills weren't impervious to the disaster. Many employees found themselves temporarily out of work due to excessive water damage to the machinery that they operated.
The situation in Western Pennsylvania progressively became worse in the days that followed the flood. Resident began to realize that the murky flood water had contaminated the clean water supply. The fear of waterborne diseases spread rapidly.
In addition to that, certain areas were still dealing with electrical power outages that occurred on March 17. Local radio stations reported that the power company expected to have service fully restored within eight days. Unfortunately without electricity, many residents were unable to use their radios to listen to the broadcasts. The outages also contributed to a fuel shortage since there was no electricity to power the gasoline pumps. Those not impacted by the fuel shortage dealt with the challenge of navigating their vehicles through the muddy wreckage left in the streets.
Similar problems along the rail lines interrupted trolley service and freight delivery schedules. Even the coal barge traffic had been brought to a halt due to the large amount of debris that had washed out into the rivers. The effects of the flooding could be felt everywhere.
As a result of the St. Patrick's Day tragedy, the United States Army Corps of Engineers developed a flood-control system for the region. The design was a combination of nine dams along the Allegheny River, three dams along the Monongahela River, and four dams in the Beaver River drainage. Once the system was operational, it helped to reduce the severity of the flooding that occurred in the years following the 1936 flood. Despite lowering the number of floods, the system's ability to eliminate the flood threat completely has not yet been achieved.
Pittsburgh Flood Photographs
( 1936 )
Flooding In Dead Man's Hollow
On March 17th, 1936, the rising water of the Youghiogheny River began to back-up in the drainage tunnel that ran beneath the P&LE railroad line. This resulted in the flooding of the lower section of Dead Man's Hollow.
In a short period of time, the dirty water had surrounded the remains of the Union Sewer Pipe Company's kiln ovens, boiler house and blacksmith shop. The families living just beyond the old factory kept a nervous watch on the advancing water throughout the day and well into the night.
At dawn, the daylight reveal that the flood water had continued to swirl into hollow along Dead Man's Run. The alarming sight had some residents preparing to flee from the rising water along the road to Liberty Borough. Fortunately for most of the families living in the hollow, the flood water crested before reaching their homes.
The Great St. Patrick's Day Flood was not the only time that Dead Man's Hollow would be subjected to flooding. Nine years later, the residents of the hollow were confronted by rising water once again.
DMH Flood Photographs
( 1936 / 1945 )
The photographs above were captured during two separate flooding incidents in Dead Man's Hollow.
The first photograph ( top ) was taken from a ridge overlooking the Youghiogheny River just a few day after The Great St. Patrick's Day Flood in 1936. This photograph shows the Union Sewer Pipe Company's kiln oven chimneys 'wading' in the flood water. The P&LE railroad line, which is now the Great Allegheny Passage, can be seen just beyond the four brick towers. On the opposite bank of the river, the silhouette of the Hubbard Mine coal tipple hides in the morning fog.
The second photograph ( bottom ) was taken during the Flood of 1945. In this photograph, Magdalena Bendzuch comforts her grandson George as her daughter, Anna uses a coal shovel as an oar. In the background, the Union Sewer Pipe Company's blacksmith shop, boiler house and two brick chimneys are partially submerged. At the time when this photograph was taken, the blacksmith shop was being used as a Boy Scout Camp.