On this day in 1927, the Kentucky River peaks during a massive flood that kills 89 people and leaves thousands homeless. Torrential rains caused this unprecedented flood.
An account from the Mountain Eagle newspaper out of Whitesburg, Kentucky, in Letcher County, provides a detailed look at the disaster:
The flood hit just after 11 o’clock Sunday night, and within a few minutes the whole camp of the Consolidated Fuel company was under water. The house in which Brent Breeding and his family were living was swept against the railroad trestle and then crushed to pieces. Not a plank of it is to be seen there now. All of the members of the family were saved except a five-year-old girl. The body has not yet been recovered.
Jimmy Higgins, superintendent, says that he heard at 11 o’clock that his sub-station was on fire and started up Smoot creek to see about it. The rain became so hard that he turned back and climbed the hill to his home overlooking the depot there. A prolonged flash of lightning showed him that the camp already flooded. He rushed back down the hill and began to direct the rescue work. They had to chop into the roofs of some of the houses to get the occupants out, for the water from below had trapped them. Swimmers went in at the risk of their own lives and carried out occupants. One home had thirteen children, all of whom were saved.
This flood had a serious long-term impact on the communities of the region: 12,000 people were left homeless and men were out of work for months as the mines in which most worked had to be shut down. As with most floods, it was the flooding of small streams rather than a major river that caused the most deaths. Major rivers that flood can cause serious property and agricultural damage, but do not usually cause deaths because it takes more time for them to flood, usually providing ample warning to people nearby. Smaller rivers and creeks tend to flood suddenly when inundated by local storm bursts; the sudden waves of water that kill people usually come out of these smaller rivers.
Floods are the deadliest weather phenomenon in the United States, causing about 140 deaths annually.