Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary source: Survivor stories

Survivors describe the Flood

Mr. Henry Viering

For several days after the flood Mr. Henry Viering, the well-known furniture dealer at the corner of Railroad and Jackson Streets, suffered great bodily pain from injuries received on the fatal Friday; but his bodily pain was as nothing compared to his mental agony. He lost in the flood his wife and three children.  Five additional children survived.  In an interview he said, substantially, as follows:

I was at home with my wife and children when the alarm came. We hurried from the house, leaving everything behind us. As we reached the door, a friend of mine was running by. He grasped the two smallest children, one under each arm, and then hurried on ahead of us. I had my arm around my wife’s waist supporting her.

Behind us we could hear the flood rushing. In one hurried glance as I passed a corner I could see the fearful flood crunching and crackling the houses in its fearful grasp, with no possibility of escape, as we were too far away from the hillside. In a flash I saw my three dear children licked up by it and disappear from sight, as I and my wife were thrown in the air by the rushing ruins.

We found ourselves in among a lot of drift, driving along with the speed of a racehorse. In a moment or two we were thrown with a crash against the side of a large frame building, whose walls gave away as if they were made of paper, and the timbers began to fall about us in all directions. Up to this time I retained a firm hold on my wife; but I found myself pinned between two heavy timbers, the agony causing my senses to leave me momentarily: I recovered instantly, in time to see my wife’s head just disappearing under water.

Like lightening I grasped her by the hair, and as best I could, pinioned as I was above the water by the timber, I raised her above it. The weight proved too much, and she sank again. Again I pulled her to the surface, and again she sank. This I did again and again without avail. She drowned in that grasp, and at last dropped from my nerveless hands, to leave my sight forever!

As if I had not suffered enough, a few moments later I saw white objects whirling around in an eddy until, reaching again the current, they floated past me. My God! Would you believe me? It was my children, all dead! Their dear little faces are before me now – distorted in a look of agony – that, no matter what I do, haunts me. Oh, if I could only have released myself at that time, I would have willingly gone with them! I was rescued some time after, and have been here ever since. I have since learned that my friend, who so bravely endeavored to save two of the children, was lost with them.

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

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