The Great Flood of 1913 in Pictures

1“The National Calamity”

In March of 1913, Indiana experienced the worst natural disaster in its history. A perfect storm occurred when a Midwestern cold front collided with the remnants of a major hurricane. The result was catastrophic flooding and unprecedented damage to Indianapolis and several cities across central-southern Indiana.

2The Rains Come…

MOORESVILLE BRIDGE CLOSEUP

On Easter morning, torrential rain began falling in the area. The storm system stalled over central Indiana, producing as much as 10 inches of rain in a single day. After a particularly wet spring, the ground was already saturated. Flooding began by mid-day.

3Caught Unawares

In 1913, there were no Doppler systems, radio stations, or televised news broadcasts in Indiana. Residents were completely unprepared for the magnitude of the storm and subsequent flooding.  

4Indianapolis Levees Totter

On Monday, Indianapolis levees began to falter. Water flooded streets near the levees, eventually breaching Indianapolis Water Company’s Riverside pumping station. Water service to the entire city halted.

5When the Levee Breaks

On Tuesday, the Morris Street levee failed. The Washington Street Bridge collapsed, cutting off the west side of Indianapolis from downtown. The bridges on Meridian St., College Ave., and Northwestern Ave. were also destroyed by flood waters. Illinois Street became impassible due to flooding. The only northbound street out of downtown Indianapolis to remain open was Capitol Ave.

6The Waters Isolate

In addition to the flooded streets and failed bridges across the state, railroad lines flooded out. In Indianapolis, the power house for downtown streetcar service was underwater, halting the city’s entire fleet of streetcars. Telephone service across the state was also disrupted.

7Making Do with Makeshift 

BROAD RIPPLE SANDBAGS

Like much of southern and central Indiana, entire Indianapolis neighborhoods on the near west-side and Broad Ripple were completely destroyed. In Broad Ripple, neighbors constructed a dike to redirect floodwaters away from their homes and onto nearby Broadway Street. The residents of Broadway Street didn’t take kindly to this move.

8United in Disaster

Major violence seemed imminent, but tempers cooled when a nearby levee burst. A massive flood of water quickly submerged the entire area. The Vandalia Railroad Bridge collapsed, sending a parked freight train careening into the White River.

9High and Dry

Some people fled the area, taking shelter in local schools and community centers, heading for high, dry ground en masse. Others retreated to their attics as the water rose. They eventually became trapped inside their homes. By the time the river crested on Wednesday, at least 10,000 Indianapolis homes had flooded, along with tens of thousands across the state. Of those, 7,000 were destroyed.

10Measuring Disaster

An estimated 25 people had died in Indianapolis alone. How high did the water rise? Nobody knows for sure. The official gauge washed away in the flood. However, estimates have placed the river at least 19 inches above flood stage.

11The Waters Recede

By Friday, much of the flooding had receded. Water service and utilities had mostly been restored. The city began to assess damages. Indianapolis officials drew up comprehensive flood protection plans. It wasn’t until a second major flood hit in 1937 that a concrete levee was constructed along the White River.  

12Once Was Bad Enough…

Replacing the Cumberland Covered Bridge

Could a flood of this magnitude strike Indiana again? Officials believe that the current levee system is high enough to avert a major disaster in Indianapolis, but the theory has never been tested.

13Cross Your Fingers.

Downtown Indianapolis sits in a flood plain. If the levees just west of downtown ever failed, catastrophic flooding could occur. Hopefully, neither the city nor state will never again be faced with such a crisis.