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With no federal disaster agency, Red Cross steps in

April 8, 2013
By Christian Hudspeth , The Marietta Times

The 1913 flood was one of the worst natural disasters to hit the United States. It hit the country at a time when there was no federal disaster plan in place for any flood, let alone one of that magnitude.

The majority of victims were forced to rely on friends and neighbors until relief efforts arrived.

The Red Cross was instrumental in providing support and relief for flood victims during the 1913 flood.

Article Photos

Photo Courtesy of The American Red Cross.
The American Red Cross has provided relief for flood victims since it was founded in 1881. They have stations such as this set up across the country to provide relief to those in need.

It was a relatively new organization at the time, having been first established on May 21, 1881, according to Melanie Pipkin, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross was stationed in Ohio for five months from March until August after the flood of 1913 in order to provide relief to the victims.

"According to the disaster report, it was the largest relief operation of its kind that the Red Cross had engaged in up to that point," said Pipkin. "The total relief expended was more than $3 million."

Fact Box

Fact box

American Red Cross was founded on May 21, 1881.

The Red Cross was on the ground in Ohio for five months from March to August during the 1913 flood.

At that time the 1913 flood in Ohio was the largest relief operation the Red Cross had engaged in.

The total relief expended was more than $3 million.

The Ohio Conservancy Act was passed in February of 1914.

It allowed the formation of agencies to provide comprehensive plans for the control of flooding in communities across Ohio.

There are 20 conservancy districts in the state of Ohio.

Two of the largest are the Miami Conservancy District and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.

Source: Times research.

The relief efforts provided by the Red Cross included sending social workers, nurses and relief supplies. Providing food, clothing and shelter for those affected was the main concern for the organization, Pipkin said.

Since that event the Red Cross has dealt with a number of disasters nationwide and for the most part the approach has remained constant, she said.

"We continue to do things like send in relief supplies and workers, but the sophistication of our efforts is much different now," said Pipkin. "We have much better technology, transportation and communication today than was available in 1913."

These tools make it easier for the Red Cross to work with the communities affected and also with other agencies.

The experience of having dealt with more disasters also makes responses faster and easier today than it would have been in 1913.

"Being a relatively young organization in 1913 we didn't have the infrastructure or fundraising capabilities we have now," said Pipkin. "At the time of the flood we had 60 chapters. Today there are more than 500 chapters of the Red Cross ready and willing to help across the country."

Relief efforts could likely have been reduced if there was any sort of federal or state emergency plan in place during the 1913 flood.

After the widespread disaster of the 1913 flood the Ohio Conservancy Act was passed.

The act was drafted by Dayton attorney John McMahon and lobbied for the creation of conservancy districts all across the state of Ohio. In February of 1914 the act was passed, and allowed the formation of regional agencies to provide comprehensive plans to control flooding in the community, according to Kurt Rinehart, chief engineer with the Miami Conservancy District.

"There are 20 conservancy districts in Ohio and most are relatively small," said Rinehart. "We are one of the largest, along with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District."

Rinehart noted that with the increase in technology and the formation of these conservancy districts, that Ohio residents are much less likely to face what those living in 1913 did.

"I think back then it was pretty much communities were on their own," he added. "There wasn't a strong state or federal presence available to help until the cleanup and relief efforts."

At the time of the 1913 flood there were few preventative measures for an influx of that much water, nor procedures of what to do if it did occur.

With no way to prevent those levels of water and very little warning, the devastation that ensued was catastrophic for areas of Ohio near bodies of water.

Today, thanks in part to both federal and state efforts, cities living in areas at risk for floods are more protected.

The Miami Conservancy currently has five dams that were completed in 1922 to prevent flood waters from reaching cities from Piqua down to Hamilton, according to Brenda Gibson, public relations manager for the Miami Conservancy District.

Gibson added that the dams have held water back 1,700 times, but only a few of those would have prevented flooding among the cities.

"These dams are designed to handle the amount of water from the 1913 flood plus an additional 40 percent," said Rinehart. "Thankfully we haven't seen any floods quite like the one in 1913."

Several floods have been prevented by the precautionary measures put in place by the Miami Conservancy District.

"Since 1913 the two worst floods we have experienced have been in 1959 and 2005," he said. "Both of those floods would have allowed significant water into the cities."



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