|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
The Great Flood of 1937 reached its greatest extent on January 27, 1937 with flood levels reaching 19.1 feet above flood stage in Jeffersonville, Indiana
The Great Flood of 1937
Heavy rains over the Ohio River Valley during December and January of 1937 swelled the water levels in the Ohio River to unprecedented levels. The heaviest rainfall in Ohio occurred between January 13 and 25 when between six and twelve inches of rain fell. The Ohio River rose to 85.44 feet at Jeffersonville, flooding seventy percent of the city. All of the river towns of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois were affected. Hundreds of thousands of people had to evacuate, taking refuge in the towns and cities in southern Indiana. The flood lasted an entire month, with water levels beginning to rise on January 5 and not fully receding until February 5, 1937. The flooding caused an estimated $250,000,000 in damage. This was in 1937 dollars. In current values, that would be in excess of three billion dollars. This was an historic burden for a nation in the depths of the Great Depression.
Federal Government Response
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent their entire fleet of vessels downstream on the Cumberland River to rescue stranded citizens and provide relief efforts. Since the floodwaters were so high, the boats could not go under most of the bridges. The floodwaters forced the boats out of the river channels to sail over the flooded fields and roads, dodging building, power lines and other obstructions. President Franklin Roosevelt dispatched thousands of Works Progress Administration workers into the area to aid in flood relief.
The Flood was a truly historic flood. Historians searched documents and could find nothing in the old records to match it. Geologists studied the area and determined that nothing like it had ever happened before. The Federal Government instituted a flood control plan. This resulted in a series of seventy dams and locks to control the flooding. Completed in the 1940's, this system has reduced the flood damage in the years since.
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning