A succession of storms unleashed 5.77 inches of rain in the Erie area between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Aug. 3, 1915. Four inches of rain fell between 4 and 7 p.m. All of that water was funneled from the Mill Creek watershed into Mill Creek, which flowed through central Erie. As its waters rose, Mill Creek overflowed its banks into farmlands and yards in the Glenwood Hills area, according to historical accounts. Saturated soil along the creek’s banks collapsed, sending trees, barns, chicken coops, outhouses and other structures into the rapidly rising Mill Creek. Debris collected near a culvert at 26th and State streets, where Mill Creek flowed under State Street. Soon, a reservoir formed that extended south for several blocks. Police and firefighters unsuccessfully tried to clear the dam with dynamite. At about 8:45 p.m., the culvert broke and a wall of water, estimated in newspaper accounts as high as 25 feet, tore through the central city, moving in a northeasterly direction toward Presque Isle Bay. Written accounts estimate the floodwaters’ path of destruction at four blocks to six blocks wide and nearly 3 miles long. The wave knocked trains and street cars off their tracks. During the height of the flood, every available firefighter and police officer frantically worked to save lives in the stricken areas. Men, women and children were taken from endangered buildings by rope, ladders and pieces of lumber thrown together. Erie Fire Chief John McMahon and firefighter John Donovan lost their lives from the flood. The Mill Creek flood destroyed about 250 houses, damaged about 300 other buildings and left several hundred families homeless. A final death toll was never settled, but casualty reports ranged from 36 to more than 40. It wasn’t until dawn arrived the next day, that stunned Erieites caught their first glimpses of the scope of destruction: Streets clogged with mud, remnants of houses and barns, twisted and smashed automobiles, broken machinery, tree trunks, clothing, cattle and chicken carcasses, and human remains.
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