Benjamin Lee, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Lee describes what he saw when arriving at Johnstown
A survey of the situation showed that the Board was confronted by a task of gigantic dimensions. Johnstown proper was partly a lake, partly several small streams, partly a vast sandy plain, and partly clusters of more or less ruined houses. Around among, between, inside and on top of these houses, wherever the rushing torrent had been checked, were piled masses of wreckage; trunks of mighty trees, household furniture, houses whole and in fragments, bridges, locomotives and railroad cars, hundreds of tons of mud and gravel. Thickly strewn through it all were hundreds of corpses and carcasses. The only communication between this section and the Pennsylvania Railroad and the village of Peelorville on the north, and Kernville on the south, was across swollen torrents in skiffs, which required constant bailing to keep them above water.
From the stone bridge of the Pennsylvania Road, for a distance of half a mile, no river could be seen, simply a dense mass of drift from twenty to fifty feet deep, apparently inextricable, bound together with miles of wire, here blazing and there smoldering, and enveloping the bridge in a cloud of nauseating vapor and smoke, giving unmistakable evidence of the presence of burning flesh. Not a thoroughfare was passable for a team, and very few for a horse. Not only was the work immense, but the difficulties in the way of its accomplishment were such as can scarcely be comprehended by those who did not see them.... Locomotion was difficult, the mud deep, the streets obstructed often to the roofs of the houses, the rain incessant.
From Through the Johnstown Flood, Rev. David Beale, pages 177-203