Sunday, July 09, 2000

Ohio likes to plan for disasters - after one strikes

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

        DAYTON, Ohio — History has a lesson for those who dismiss the risk of earthquakes in Ohio.

        There was no planning for massive flooding in the state until after 1913, when Dayton and other western Ohio communities were devastated by the region's worst natural disaster.

        The flooding, which killed 467 people statewide, led to the Miami Conservancy District, a $30 million first-of-its-kind network of levies and dams that limit the flow of river water.

        “The 1913 flood would have probably revisited this area many times since 1913 if it weren't for that series of dams to stem that flow,” said Ed Kovar, executive director of the Miami Valley Emergency Management Agency.

        An early spring thaw in 1913 saturated the basins of the Great Miami, Mad and Stillwater rivers, which come together in Dayton. Then it began to rain and didn't stop for five days.

        The water, with nowhere else to go, breached the earthen levees and poured into Dayton. A brown wave of water — up to 20 feet deep in some places — streamed downtown. Natural gas lines snapped, and fires broke out around the city.

        The riverside communities of Sidney, Piqua, Troy, Miamisburg, Germantown, Franklin, Middletown and Hamilton were also swamped.

        “After the 1913 flood, people became more cognizant of flooding,” Mr. Kovar said. “And we were in a phase of our history where technologically we could do something about it.”

        The Englewood, Germantown, Huffman, Lockington and Taylorsville dams were completed in 1922 and have since prevented an estimated 1,300 floods in communities along the river.

        Mr. Kovar said that when he attends national conventions on flood control, western Ohio's series of dams and levees is pointed to as a model.

        “The Miami Conservancy is nationally recognized as one of the greatest stories in flood prevention,” he said.

        And the memory of the 1913 flood continues to drive efforts to keep it from ever happening again. In June 1998, funding was approved for the first phase of a $24 million project to repair the deteriorating dams.

        In contrast, Mr. Kovar said, most Ohioans are not prepared or concerned about earthquakes.

        “A lot of people even laugh about it,” he said.

        He said that if a major earthquake struck the state, Ohioans would probably react the way they did after the 1913 flood.

        “New building codes would be established,” he said. “There are tried and tested types of construction that can be built that can help buildings withstand large earthquakes. And there would be renewed interest in mass-casualty plans.”

        Mr. Kovar also said there likely would be a run on earthquake insurance.


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