June 19

This Day in History

Disaster

Jun 19, 1938:

Montana flood causes train wreck

On this day in 1938, a flood in Montana kills 46 people and seriously injures more than 60 when it washes out train tracks.

Custer Creek is a small winding river that runs through 25 miles of the Great Plains on its way to the Yellowstone River. Minor streams like Custer Creek are prone to flash floods because their small capacity can quickly and easily be exceeded during heavy rains.

On the evening of June 19, a track walker was sent out to check the rail lines near Custer Creek in Terry, Montana. He reported dry conditions and no problems with the tracks. However, within just a few hours, a sudden downpour overwhelmed Custer Creek. A bridge used by trains was washed out, and when the Olympian Special came through, it went crashing into the raging waters with no warning.

Two sleeper cars were buried in the muddy waters. A pitch-black night on the Great Plains made rescue efforts extremely difficult and 46 people lost their lives. The rear cars stayed above the water, but scores of passengers were seriously injured. They could not be evacuated until the following morning.

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