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RivermenandRiverboats > The Super Flood 1937 ~Paducah~ > The Super Flood 1937 ~Paducah~ Go to subcategory:
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Fiddlinsue
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Date Posted:02/17/2009 10:43 AMCopy HTML







Stocks were washed away and mud and silt left to tell the story of wholesale destruction.  Store fronts were boarded up to forestall looting, which was held to a minimum by five hundred state and federal troops.  The infantry was metamorphosed into a small navy by circumstances of the hour.  In some instances, upper floors caved in, adding to the horror of the scene.  Damage to retail stores, including losses of merchandise and foodstuffs, was estimated at $6,500,000.
Telephone communication, crippled by the sleet storm of a few days before, had not been fully restored.  With the onslaught of Old Man River the service flirted with zero.  At the height of the flood water a temporary system was established in the Arcadia section, rendering communication for thrity telephones.  One of these lines extended to Red Cross headquarters and the temporary radio station in the Hotel Irvin Cobb, another to medical aides.  Damage to telephone equipment in the city was estimated at $300,000.
Electric light and power service in the flooded area was cut off, shrouding the city in darkness.  Changing meteriological conditions engulfed the community in heavy fog for nights, increasing the hazards of rescue.  Those remaining in the flooded districts went to upped stories and attics, carrying old-time oil lamps for illumination.  Candles also became popular again.  Fighting against insurmountable odds, the gas company lost a valiant battle and ceased to function when the rising waters topped 52 feet.  People warmed coffee on small oil stoves and open grate fires.  They slept in their clothes for weeks. 
Train service, too, was interrupted, and bus routes resembled the river's channel.  The last train arrived from Louisville late in the afternoon of January 21.  Postal service was carried on in the east wing of the Arcadia School under severe handicap.  Only first class mail was handled and no newspapers, magazines or packages reached the city for a month.  The federal building at Fifth and Broadway lacked a foot of having water on the first floor, but heating equipment in the basement was submerged and the building was inaccessible to patrons.
Nothing proved a greater inconvenience than lack of city water.  When sandbags failed to hold the rushing tide from the pumping plant near the river, enough filtered water was on hand for three days' normal supply.  This was gradually exhausted.  Drinking water was then brought in from nearby communities and rationed in the struggle to checkmate the dreaded rear guard of the flood--disease.  Nine thousand workers and refugees were inoculated against typhoid fever.  If cold weather was disagreeable, it is at least checked the spread of disease.  Health conditions were good, although an emergency hospital set up in the George Rogers Clark School did not run short of patients.  Pneumonia and influenza, caused by exposure, were the chief ailments.
With the city's  water supply cut off, the danger of fire added to the peril of the flood.  Fire-fighting equipment and men were loaned by four sister cities, but these could not ply Venetian-like streets.  A steamboat stood ready at First Street with pumps, prepared to snuff out blazes in the business district.  Five heavy fire losses were suffered in the inundated areas, which extended west to Twenty-Ninth Street at Jefferson.
As the waters slowly subsided, weary flood victims began making pilgrimages to thier homes.  Shocking sights were revealed, an entangling mass of debris, bewildering in its magnitude.  Private homes, including contents, suffered damage of approximately $12,000,000.  Hundreds of homes were left uninhabitable.  The entire furnishings of two thousand homes were dumped in the streets, to be hauled away by twelve hundred Works Progress Administration helpers, pressed into service by an ambitious rehabilitation program.
A week after the Ohio River had returned to its bed, the Red Cross was housing 6,511 families in the city's school buildings.  These families, representing 23,000 people, were not only sheltered while their homes were being put in order, but also supplied with food and clothing.
The tell-tale line on houses and business blocks showed where the Ohio River went on its wildest rampage.  It was eight feet deep at Fourth and Broadway. The lobby of the Hotel Irvin Cobb at Sixth and Broadway was covered by five feet, a barge being tied up alongside the structure for emergency purposes.  At Twelfth and Broadway the waters touched a store awning.  The southern exposure of the market house rested in ten feet of water.  The Ritz Hotel at Twenty-Second and Broadway was more than eight feet in the water. A tugboat towed a barge on Fountain Avenue.  Another chugged up Murrell Boulevard.
 
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