AKRON, Ohio - March 23 will mark the 100-year anniversary since heavy rain over a four-day period flooded every river in Ohio, killed hundreds of people and washed away the Ohio and Erie Canal system.
"It was part of a giant storm system which was equivalent to Hurricane Katrina, said Trudy Bell, a national expert on The Flood of 1913. Her research shows the storm stretched from Nebraska to New England.
In Ohio, Bell said the heaviest rain fell in a range of hills between Akron and Canton, an area that makes up part of The Continental Divide.
"It flooded every river from its headwaters to its source in Ohio," Bell said.
An estimated 600 Ohioans died from the massive flooding with high causalities in the Akron region and Dayton. About 20,000 homes were destroyed. Many of them were ripped from their foundations and swept away.
The torrential downpour over four days was equivalent to two or three months of rain.
In Akron, levees broke and firefighters scrambled to save families.
Black and white photographs from the Louis Baus Canal Photograph Collection from the University of Akron show flooded streets, neighborhoods and businesses.
"It flooded the Goodyear plant. It flooded the Beacon Journal and they actually ran printing presses, but powered by motorcycles," Bell said.
Dan Rice, president and CEO of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, said the catastrophic weather event destroyed the entire canal system.
"Locks here in downtown Akron had to be dynamited in order to allow water to flow north and relieve some of the pressure," Rice said.
The storm, also known as The Easter Flood, eventually led to the creation of Ohio's Watershed Conservancy District, which monitors levels on all rivers. It also sparked the modern day emergency response system.
"Now you have the Red Cross. You have government agencies working collaboratively to provide response and aid to individuals and families during this type of crisis," Rice said.
The canal is now the towpath and stretches 101 miles from Cleveland to New Philadelphia. It's enjoyed by 2.5 million outdoor enthusiasts each year. Rice said there are "dreams" to continue the towpath another 200 miles to Portsmouth.
Dozens of events are scheduled over the next week in several states to remember the 100-year flood.
Bell will give a lecture on the flood this Friday at 8 p.m. at Happy Day Lodge in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Peninsula.
On Saturday, a new "Flood of 1913" exhibit will be dedicated from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Exploration Gateway at Sippo Lake Park in Canton. The exhibit will run through Dec. 31.
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