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4.30.2015

1889 Johnstown Flood Dam Location: Johnstown Flood National Memorial

At one point, this valley was once home to a large lake that was held with an earthen dam. It was a favorite hangout for local steel executives and the upper class after the lake's original usage as a water source for a canal was abandoned. The lake was two miles long. On one fateful day, May 31, 1889, after the heaviest recorded rainfall that the region ever saw, the earthen dam failed, emptying the lake within minutes and sending a churning wave over 60 feet high at 40 MPH, 14 miles downstream and destroying the then industrial hub of Johnstown and killing 2,209 residents in one of the worst disasters in our nation's history. It was surreal being in this spot, as the sun was setting in a spectacular sunset. 

Hawks were also gliding over us, as if we were getting looked over by all of the spirits lost in the area. The feeling in this spot was very unsettling and we did not feel like we were alone, even though we were the only ones up at this vista. It is a hard feeling to explain. 
 Brit loves hawks

They have done a great job with the center overlooking the former dam. In the aftermath, the famous Clara Barton and the Red Cross came and helped with healthcare needs, food, and clean up. This was the first major relief mission for the Red Cross.

These buildings were a part of the private club that ran the lake, and were home to the men that unsuccessfully tried to get the dam to hold. The club made modifications to the dam that made it unable to handle release enough water. As per the usual, the wealthy club owners got off without having to pay a dime of restitution to the survivors of the flood and the rebuilding of the city.  

The feeling of just knowing the catastrophe happened in this location gives you such a disgusted and heartbroken feeling. I do not seek out depressing things like this, but it really is a moving feeling to see places like this, or the Flight 93 Memorial, knowing the pain that happened and remains tied to these sites. We happened to stop at both of these places in the midst of stunning sunsets and it brings a sense of closure. From these events, we hopefully have learned better methods to keep people safe in the hope that these lives were not lost for nothing. Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to prevent further catastrophes and we need to study situations like this, disasters like this, so we can keep people safe. 

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire taught us many things in fire safety, including how we need to keep our exits open and with outward opening doors. Did all of us learn from that? Absolutely not, but those of us that have learned have saved countless lives. The Station Nightclub fire in 2003 was a great example of negligent business owners not learning from the lessons of previous disasters, resulting in the loss of a hundred lives. If I recall correctly, a similar fire happened right before that at another club and we did not hear about it because the club had wide outward opening exit doors and a sprinkler system. Everyone got out of that fire safely. We need to study these disasters in order to prevent them from reoccurring. 

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