Ohio River Flood of 1937
For 19 days -- from Jan.
18 until Feb. 5 -- the swirling, muddy waters of the Ohio leapt riverbanks and blanketed one-sixth of a city paralyzed by too much rain and snow. The river reached its highest-ever level in Cincinnati on this date. An estimated 100,000 people were left homeless. Local damage reached $20 million in 1937 dollars. In Ohio River towns from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Ill., 385 people were killed, 1 million were left homeless and property losses eclipsed the $500 million mark.
Though the rains began to fall early in the month, the most significant rainfall occurred between the 13th and 24th. These heavy rains coupled with an already swollen river caused a rapid rise in the river's level. The morning of the 24th was perhaps the darkest moment in the history of the flood as the entire Ohio River was above flood stage. The river in Louisville rose 6.3 feet between the 21st and 22nd. With the river reaching nearly 30 feet above flood stage, Louisville had the greatest height of the flood. The previous record set in 1884 had been broken by 11 feet. The river did not crest at Louisville until the 27th. It measured 57.1 feet on Louisville's upper gage while farther down the river, in Paducah, the river crested at 60.6 feet on February 2nd. Damages from what could easily be considered one of the most powerful floods of the century were extensive. Louisville was the hardest hit city along the Ohio River, where light and water services failed. Almost 70 percent of the city was under water, and 175,000 people were forced to leave their homes.
The city, waterlogged on top of sewers clogged by slush, filled up with Ohio backwater that had nowhere to go. Upriver, heavy snow in the Allegheny Mountains that feed the Ohio and its tributaries was melting amid continual rain, creating a relentlessly-rising Ohio.
By Jan. 12, there were reports that the Ohio had quickly risen 5 to 8 feet just above Cincinnati. The flood crest here was revised to 41 feet, and some farmers began moving livestock out of Union Township.
By Jan. 17, water was coming up the steps of the decorative, 6-month-old Dress Plaza, and there was a fear of basement flooding on the East Side (the city limits ended at Weinbach Avenue).
Jan. 20 brought news a levee had broken in Hazleton, Ind., with U.S. 41 closed off north of Princeton, Ind.