Updated:
Original:
Year
1977

Second great flood hits Johnstown

A flash flood hits Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on this day in 1977, killing 84 people and causing millions of dollars in damages. This flood came 88 years after the infamous Great Flood of 1889 that killed more than 2,000 people in Johnstown. As they had in the first flood, the dams in the Conemaugh Valley failed, bringing disaster to the town.

The flood occurred when an extraordinary amount of rain came down in the Conemaugh Valley in a short period of time. Nearly 12 inches were measured in 10 hours. The National Weather Service later estimated that this amount of rain in that location should happen less than once every 1,000 years.

The largest dam that burst was at Laurel Run. This 10-year-old earthen dam held back 100 million gallons of water. Despite having a 42-foot-high spillway, the dam failed and the resulting flood devastated the town of Tanneryville. Five other dams in the area also burst, releasing another 30 million gallons of water over the landscape.

The failure of the dams came as a big surprise. Johnstown had constructed an entire system designed to completely eliminate the flood risk. In addition, regular inspections had turned up no defects. Still, the dams were no match for the thunderstorm that stalled over the area on July 20.

In addition to the 84 people who lost their lives to the flood, $300 million in damages were suffered and hundreds of people lost their homes. President Carter declared the region a federal disaster area and the National Guard was sent to assist in the relief efforts. Despite millions spent to rehabilitate the Johnstown area, the economy never recovered. The city’s population decreased nearly 15 percent in the aftermath of the flood, as people moved away to rebuild their lives elsewhere.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Aurora shooting leaves 12 dead, 70 wounded

On this day in 2012, gunman James Holmes started a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, a Denver suburb, killing 12 people—the youngest a 6-year-old girl—and injuring at least 70 others. The Aurora shooting took place shortly after the start of a crowded midnight showing ...read more

Sitting Bull surrenders

Five years after General George A. Custer’s infamous defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, Hunkpapa Teton Sioux leader Sitting Bull surrenders to the U.S. Army, which promises amnesty for him and his followers. Sitting Bull had been a major leader in the 1876 Sioux uprising ...read more

Viking 1 lands on Mars

On the seventh anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, the Viking 1 lander, an unmanned U.S. planetary probe, becomes the first spacecraft to successfully land on the surface of Mars. Viking 1 was launched on August 20, 1975, and arrived at Mars on June 19, 1976. The first ...read more

Neil Armstrong walks on moon

At 10:56 p.m. EDT, American astronaut Neil Armstrong, 240,000 miles from Earth, speaks these words to more than a billion people listening at home: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Stepping off the lunar landing module Eagle, Armstrong became the first ...read more

A serial-killing couple is apprehended

Alton Coleman and Debra Brown are apprehended in Evanston, Illinois, after a particularly vicious two-month crime spree that left eight people dead and many more injured. Coleman had been added to the special eleventh slot on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List for actively dangerous ...read more

President Truman issues peacetime draft

President Harry S. Truman institutes a military draft with a proclamation calling for nearly 10 million men to register for military service within the next two months. Truman’s action came during increasing Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union. Following World War II, the ...read more

Assassination plot against Hitler fails

On this day in 1944, Hitler cheats death as a bomb planted in a briefcase goes off, but fails to kill him. High German officials had made up their minds that Hitler must die. He was leading Germany in a suicidal war on two fronts, and assassination was the only way to stop him. A ...read more