A Living Nightmare

Alma was floating down Broad Street – floating! It had to be a nightmare. Except the water splashing into the boat that day, March 25, 1913, felt too cold to be a dream.

For Columbus, the Great Flood of 1913 started when the Scioto River broke through wooden levees on the West Side. The area, known to be a flood plain, was of historic importance. The city of Franklinton was founded there before Columbus and later annexed to it.

Reading about it later in the Columbus Evening Dispatch confirmed for Alma the reality of the historic disaster that claimed her parents among the 93 Columbus residents who were killed. People rescued, sheltered and fed their fellow citizens. City Hall housed flood survivors. There had been no advance planning to meet such an extreme need; responses were on-the-spot.

It wasn’t as if there were no warning.  Severe weather had been occurring throughout the state and beyond, including torrential rains that began on March 23. Dayton was especially hard-hit, with 123 dead.

The National Red Cross came to Columbus, offering as much as the six-year-old orphan could absorb. She had a place to sleep, something warm to eat, an adult to lean on. But not the adults she cared about most. No, she had watched them go under those foul-smelling waters – go under, but not surface.

Bridges connecting the city’s east and west sides were wiped out. Hundreds of homes were destroyed. It wasn’t until 80 years later that anyone dared to focus development on the area that became known once again as Franklinton.

Three years later, on July 3, 1916, the nightmare all came back to Alma when the Columbus Chapter of the American Red Cross opened. She visited the new headquarters at 471 East Broad Street and met the first chairman, George W. Lattimer.

Like the buildings, some fragile psyches were irreparably ravaged, but Alma survived, body and soul. She married and her children grew up on the West Side, as she had. What was then known as the Greater Columbus Chapter of the American Red Cross was present to help meet human needs in the face of disaster.

Alma felt secure.  Surely she wouldn’t be asked to face such devastation again…would she?

Today the Central Ohio Chapter continues to meet the needs of local adults and children. With an emphasis on preparedness, response and recovery, the Chapter and The Ohio Buckeye Region help to ensure that there are plans in place and the city does not find itself unprepared, as it did in 1913.

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