Anniversary of ‘Flood of Tears’ approaches
SHADYSIDE — Emergency management officials are advising local residents to be prepared for severe summer weather, and those who recall the Flood of Tears understand exactly why they need to heed that advice.
Twenty-nine years ago this week, steady rain falling on ground that was already saturated spawned deadly flash flooding that claimed 26 lives in the Shadyside area.
The date was June 14, 1990; Friday marks the 29th anniversary of that fateful day. Those who lived along Pipe and Wegee creeks in Belmont County at that time said that “walls of water” tore through their communities, pushing trees, boulders, vehicles, buildings and, most importantly, people ahead of them as they surged toward the Ohio River.
Today those streams seem like little more than babbling brooks, but local officials and residents have long warned that they retain the potential to swell to fatal proportions.
Area residents such as Amber Bellville tell stories of the destruction that resulted and of the concern they had for friends and family members who lived along those streams. Although she was just a small child when the flooding occurred, in 2016 she recalled how her parents left their home in Rayland to search for her grandparents after hearing that they were listed as missing.
“My parents climbed over cars to get here … ,” Amber said from the front porch of her grandfather’s home.
Her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Bellville, turned out to be among the lucky ones. Although Jacob estimated the road in front of his home washed out for a span of 100 yards, he and his family members survived.
Records indicate the region’s soil already was saturated due to heavy rain throughout the month of May, and another 3-5 inches fell on June 14 — running off the steep hillsides and dumping into the Mead Township creeks. Houses and mobile homes were pushed from their foundations, causing some to collapse. Debris piled up behind bridges and formed temporary dams that quickly gave way, unleashing walls of water that reached 20-30 feet in height.
The flash flooding killed 24 individuals along Pipe and Wegee creeks and two more on Cumberland Run to the northwest in the deluge that seemed to come without warning.
According to Ohio History Connection, the Shadyside Flood of 1990 was the deadliest flood in Ohio since 1969, when 41 people died and more than 500 were injured in north-central Ohio in flooding, tornadoes and severe storms on July 4. It states that rainfall of 5.5 inches, with 3 to 4 inches in a single hour, fell on June 14, 1990, and that about 80 homes were destroyed in the stream flooding and another 250 damaged.
After pouring out of the creek beds, debris was carried downstream on the Ohio River for 30 miles to the Hannibal Dam, where it formed a raft of 15 acres. Refrigerators, furniture, toys, tires, dead livestock, and portions of homes mixed with hundreds of trees in the debris. Most of the 26 people who perished were found in the river, and a monument erected in their memory stands along Pipe Creek Road today.