March 23rd, 2023 marked the 110th anniversary of the “Great Flood of 1913” — an unexpected and catastrophic weather event that brought widespread death and destruction to Ohio. Following a huge storm — beginning on Sunday, March 23rd, 1913 — the Great Flood caused the Scioto River to rise almost 40 feet above its usual water level. The flood lasted until March 27th, resulting in at least 467 fatalities.
“Wall of water”
The flood was particularly devastating for Dayton and Columbus. 123 and 93 people respectively lost their lives as torrential waters from the Scioto River flooded the cities. Chillicothe was also badly hit — there were 22 deaths in total — while Delaware reported 18. In Chillicothe, “witnesses reported seeing what appeared to be a tsunami, a wall of water, rushing into the city when the levees broke”, the Scioto Valley Guardian reports. Although there had been flood warnings, not everyone evacuated, so some residents were left trapped by floodwaters in their homes or even in trees.
Severe property damage
The storm brought with it almost ten inches of rain — meaning streams, rivers, and creeks started to flood fast. Levees in the Miami and Scioto river valleys soon collapsed. Resulting property damage was also significant — over 500 buildings in Columbus were destroyed outright, while over 4,000 were damaged, as around 15-20 feet of water flooded areas west of the Scioto River. The State, Broad, and Town street bridges were also destroyed. In Ohio overall, 40,000 homes were flooded, and over 65,000 residents were displaced — resulting infrastructure damage totalled around $3 billion by today’s standards. Effective water damage restoration was essential for drying homes out, and making them livable and comfortable once again.
Urgent aid requested
James Cox, governor at the time, requested urgent aid — including doctors, supplies, rations, and tents — from President Woodrow Wilson, the secretary of war, Pennsylvania’s governor, and Indiana’s governor. “In the name of humanity, see that this is granted at the earliest possible moment,” he said. Dayton was in particularly dire need — streets were flooded with over 20 feet of water.
In the aftermath of the Great Flood, joint watershed planning and flood-control measures were implemented — a first for the area. The Franklinton floodwall was constructed in Columbus, along with dams and reservoirs, including Delaware Lake and Alum Creek Lake. Such measures were designed to ensure such tragedy never befell the area again.