May 31 - 1889 - The Johnstown Flood
The Johnstown flood was the largest flood in American history when judged by death and damage. It all started when the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River failed. The South Fork Dam belonged to the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, an exclusive retreat for the wealthiest and most important citizens of Pittsburgh. When a large amount of rain fell, the men charged with taking care of the dam realized the dam was not able to hold, due to years of neglect and mismanagement. At that point, the river swelled to a flow comparable to the Mississippi, picking up debris as it went. By the time the water hit Johnstown, 14 miles downriver, it was a swirling mass of water and debris. Some neighborhoods were carried away, while other houses would be flipped over on their side. Over 2,200 people died, including 99 whole families. The recovery began immediately, but still took quite awhile and largely put the American Red Cross on the map. While people wanted the members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club to pay, but the law called the flood an "Act of God." People would later change the law.