Thursday, August 4, 2016

30 Counties Suffering in Historic Flood, Stricken Appalachia, 1916

“Stricken Appalachia,” from the Watauga Democrat, Boone, N.C., August 3, 1916

Not in the history of North Carolina, and seldom in the history of the country, has there occurred such loss of both property and of life by cloudburst and flood as that which on the 15th and 16th of July befell our beautiful and boasted Land of the Sky.

Thirty or more counties overswept; 80 or 100 lives lost in the swollen waters; scores of railroad and county bridges swept away; hundreds of farms robbed of their crops, and either piled deep in sand or eaten down to the rocks; many humble homes, many lumber plants and cotton factories and grist mills, caught and tossed like toys in the raging torrents; landslides and washouts playing havoc with railroads and highways; towns and villages isolated from each other and from the outside world; trains marooned for days at various points where the floods caught them and cut them off, and thousands of summer visitors marooned at our mountain resorts; damage done which conservative experts place at from 10 to 15 million dollars; for once and for the first time, the strange cry for outside help to keep at bay the wolf of want coming from the most self-reliant and most independent of our people:--all go to show that fair Appalachia has been stricken to the heart by this monumental disaster.

For days the rain had descended until the ground was soggy and the brooks were flush; then more torrential became the downpour; then cloudbursts here and there leaped down upon the headwaters along the Blue Ridge, east and west; then dams began to burst one after another down the streams until their accumulated waters, sometimes wall-like to the height of 10 feet or more, swept everything before them in their uncontrollable onrush; and vast was the ruin wrought before the rivers ran down and the flood assuaged.

The Catawba, draining the largest basin of the flood area, succored by hundreds of turbulent tributaries, and spanned by scores of dams which gave way, rose 40 feet or more above normal and rushed seaward on such a rampage that no bridge of steel could withstand it, no telegraph or telephone wires were left above it, and the civilization it has supported along its banks was driven back aghast to the overlooking hills. The same story of devastation comes from the Yadkin river which left its ineffaceable scars in the great county of Wilkes and wrought much more havoc as it tore its way onward. Nor is the picture brighter in the valley of the Broad with many farms and homes laid waste. And beyond the Blue Ridge the flooded Swannanoa and French Broad submerged lower Asheville, put Biltmore under water, took their toll of human life, destroyed many a fair field and paralyzed for a time the traffic of a great region teeming with visitors from near and far.

Stricken Appalachia!

But the men of the mountains and of the rolling Piedmont are not the men to either murmur at their misfortune or idly bemoan their fate. In tears they have buried their dead, but in hope and with a will they have already set their hands to the task of repairing the damage done to their delightful land. Some of them will need and welcome the generosity extended to them by their neighbors round about and by sympathetic friends throughout the State; and there is talk of Federal aid in order to relieve dire distress in certain quarters. Let the cry for help be heard and heeded until the stricken home is rebuilt and the unfortunates among the proud and mighty people are on their feet again.

And out of this awful experience will emerge a people bettered by the discipline of adversity and capacitated for the rebuilding of their neighborhoods on yet securer foundations, civic, social and religious. Let them not forget to conserve the forests that crown the mighty hills and hold back the destroying waters. Let those who harness the power of those swift mountain rivers build stronger dams which will withstand the greatest pressure than can be brou’t against them. Let the bridge builders do their work hereafter in view of the maximum floods of 1916. Let no landowner or tenant erect his residence, whether palace or cot, in the danger zone. And above all, let us always look up, with gratitude for His goodness and with trust for His continued care, to Him “who maketh the clouds his chariot,and who walketh upon the wings of the wind.”

To our people in the stricken highlands we send a message of mingled condolence and good cheer—the one in sympathy for their loss, the other to hearten them in their task. The flood has receded. The rainbow of hope overspans the desolation. A new day is shedding its eflulgence all over Appalachia. Such prospects are before us as never stirred or impelled any people. “God’s in His heaven; all’s well with the world!”
                --From the Biblical Recorder

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