Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary source: Survivor stories

Survivors describe the Flood

Mr. W. B. Tice

I heard a roar like thunder, one crash after another in quick succession, and on looking out of the window I beheld the most horrible sight I ever saw, and I hope I never may be called upon to witness such a scene again.

The room I was in quickly filled with water, and in an instant I climbed on the roof by the aid of the spouting.

The wall of water which came rushing toward me carrying everything before it seemed to be thirty feet in height, and in an instant, crash! and our building was raised aloft and whirled away by mad, rushing, bounding and boiling waters of the Little Conemaugh. Eight men were on this roof, and all around us were screaming hundreds of men, women and children. Many of them were swept into eternity; some were praying, some weeping and wailing and some cursing.

I was determined to keep my presence of mind and save myself and all others that I could. We sailed about three squares when the building struck the large brick store of Wood, Morrell & Co. I clung to the roof until it passed the store, when I leaped into the water and swam to a lumber pile, which floated into slack water up the Stoney Creek, where I had a full view of the terrible disaster. The Wire Mills and Gautier Works fell, crushing all in their way. Whole families of my acquaintance were entirely wiped out of existence. All this time I was still floating around, and finally I was caught by the wild waters and whirled away and over the now famous stone bridge of the P. R. R. At this time the clock struck 4, and I then thought I would never hear the clock strike again....

I was again compelled to jump, and after being knocked about until almost exhausted, I reached another housetop, sailing at the rate of about fifteen miles an hour; but, getting close to shore, I again jumped, and a mill man caught hold of my hand and assisted me to land; he was terribly excited and could not speak. I helped him to take two more men out. I went up on the embankment and looked across the bridge, which was filled full of debris, and on it were thousands of men., women and children, who were screaming and yelling for help, as at this time the debris was on fire, and after each crash there was a moment of solemn silence, and then those voices would be again heard crying in vain for the help that came not. At each crash hundreds were forced under and slain.

I saw hundreds of them as the flames approached throw up their hands and fall backward into the fire, and those who had escaped drowning were reserved for the more horrible fate of being burned to death. At last I could endure no more. I climbed the hillside where I could see the church on fire close to the house where I had left my wife, but I could not see the house, and did not know she was safe.

A more terrible and lonesome night alone in the woods and rain I never spent, knowing that my friends mourned me as dead and I thought they were all lost.

I remember one incident while I was on the housetop: a train of cars consisting of three or four coaches came puffing along the curve, and dashing into the water gave two puffs and was swept under the mad, rushing torrent.

I could not cross the river to see my wife or let her know of my safety until the next day, and when I met her, there was once more a happy but penniless and homeless couple.

From Rev. Dr. David Beale's book Through the Johnstown Flood.

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