12 Unforgettable Floods That Left Their Mark on the USA

Floods have often affected the United States, altering its communities and landscapes. Natural events like heavy rain or rapid snow melting cause them. They’re. However, urban development and climate change also play a role. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most significant floods in U.S. history.

Johnstown Flood (1889)

Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: 2209

Affected area: Johnstown, Pennsylvania

The Great Johnstown Flood of 1889 happened due to the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam. 14 miles upstream from Johnstown, the South Fork Dam held back the waters of Lake Conemaugh. On May 31st, the levee system of the dam failed. It released approximately 20 million tons of water downstream towards Johnstown. The flood engulfed the town, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives and extensive damage.

Sea Island Hurricane and Floods (1893)

The home along Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina. These Georgian style homes are brightly painted in direct sunlight.
Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: Around 2000

Affected area: Georgia, South Carolina

The Sea Islands Storm and Flood in 1893 are among the deadliest U.S. disasters. Most victims were African Americans in the Sea Islands, many of whom were miners and laborers. The storm’s surge flooded the coasts, destroying buildings and homes. This led to significant losses in property and crops, creating a vast economic impact.

Galveston Storm and Flood (1900)

Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: More than 8000

Affected area: Galveston – Texas, Gulf Coast of the USA

On September 8th, 1900, Galveston, Texas, faced a devastating hurricane. The storm brought winds of over 130 miles per hour and a surge of up to 15 feet, causing severe flooding. Much of Galveston was submerged. The storm destroyed thousands of homes and caused billions in damages.

Heppner Flash Flood (1903)

The deep blue Crater Lake and Wizard Island as seen from Watchman Peak Trail on the western rim opposite Mt. Scott in the Southern Oregon Cascades on a late summer day with clouds.
Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: 247

Affected Areas: Oregon

The Heppner flash floods of 1903 remain a sad reminder of the destructive power of nature. This flood happened when torrential rainfall escalated the local streams and rivers. Eventually, a massive wall of water and debris surged down Willow Creek Canyon toward Heppner. This flash flood washed away entire towns with damages worth millions.

Great Mississippi Flood (1927)

Image Credit: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: Around 500

Affected area: Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana (Mississippi Delta region)

Months of heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. This deadly flood swept away millions of acres of farmland, towns, and cities. The levee system could not contain the rising waters, while the lack of emergency relief worsened the situation. A huge number of African-American people lost lives, families, and homes in this flood.

South Florida Hurricane and Flood (1928)

Image Credit: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: 4112

Affected area: Florida, Georgia, U.S. East Coast

The geographical location of South Florida makes it prone to hurricanes and floods. The Okeechobee Hurricane, or the South Florida Hurricane, made landfall near West Palm Beach in 1928. The storm brought fierce winds and torrential rainfall to South Florida. It caused Lake Okeechobee to swell rapidly. The majority of the victims were poor farm laborers, mainly African Americans.

Francis Dam Failure and Flood (1928)

Image Credit: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: Around 400

Affected Areas: Southern California

The tragic St. Francis Dam failure and flood disaster occurred in Southern California. On March 12th, 1928, the dam catastrophically failed. It sent a massive wall of water (approximately 12 billion gallons) rushing down the canyon. Many call this incident the ‘worst American civil engineering disaster of the 20th century’.

Ohio River Flood (1937)

Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: 385

Affected area: Pennsylvania, Illinois

The massive flood on the Ohio River in 1937 caused extensive damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure. The estimated amount of property damage was over $500 million (in 1937 dollars). According to reports, a record amount of rainfall happened in the region in only 12 days. The Ohio River overflowed and flooded the neighboring banks, leaving millions of people homeless.

New England Hurricane and Flood (1938)

Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: 682

Affected Areas: Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts

The New England Flood of 1938 was a result of a category-five hurricane. The storm surge was particularly devastating. It reached heights of up to 17 feet (5.2 meters) in some areas. This flood washed away over 25000 homes and took hundreds of lives. It also caused severe damage to New England’s vast forest area.

Rapid City Floods or Black Hills Flood (1972)

Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: 238

Affected Areas: South Dakota

The Rapid City Flooding was particularly severe in Rapid Creek, South Dakota. Several inches of rainfall within only six hours escalated floodwaters in the Black Hills. It drowned homes, businesses, and roads throughout the surrounding areas. Gigantic waves of 20 feet swept away vehicles, trees, and debris, causing extensive damage and loss of life.

Big Thompson Canyon Flood (1976)

Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: 144

Affected Areas: Colorado

On the evening of July 31st, 1976, a devastating flash flood struck the Big Thompson Canyon in Colorado. A slow-moving thunderstorm triggered this flood, producing unexpectedly heavy rainfall. Rainfall between 12 and 14 inches in just a few hours caused the Big Thompson River to swell rapidly. Even after massive evacuation, hundreds of people lost their lives and livelihoods due to this disaster.

Hurricane Katrina and Flood (2005)

Image Credit: Deposit Photos

Lives Lost: 1836

Affected area: Florida, Cuba, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi

Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of 2005 left an unforgettable mark on the Gulf Coast region and the whole of the USA. Katrina, a Category-five hurricane, brought with it a massive storm surge. The high waves destroyed the whole city of New Orleans. It left almost 3 million people without electricity and communication. It is also one of the costliest natural disasters in the USA, with damages worth billions.


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