MOUNT VERNON — Fifty years ago today, Mount Vernon was hit by one of the most devastating floods seen throughout the county’s history.
With 4 to 6 inches of snow already on frozen ground, 6 inches of rain quickly caused severe flooding.
Recounts of the events, as reported in the Mount Vernon News, stated that water levels rose nearly 2 1/2 feet in just over an hour. By 11 a.m., water was reported to be 30 inches from the top of the dike on the city’s west side. By 11:45 a.m., it was reported that water was standing 3-feet deep at Knerr Tire Co. on South Main Street.
The Wednesday, Jan. 21, 1959, edition of the News stated, “At 10 a.m. the sheriff’s office had issued a radio appeal through WMVO for people with outboard motors to volunteer to help in evacuations. The office said it was 60 to 70 calls behind.”
It also reported, “The State Highway Patrol declared a state of emergency for the area at 10 a.m. At 11 a.m. Mayor Phillip G. Mauger declared Mount Vernon in a state of emergency, and said he was calling the Ohio National Guard into Mount Vernon to aid in sandbagging the west side dike protecting the city, and to aid in rescue work.”
By 12:45 p.m. Jan. 21, the dike was broken in two places, and residents and guardsmen worked to sandbag the area. Despite their best efforts, the city’s west end, as well as the water treatment plant, quickly became submerged under water. Residents were forced to boil their water until the boil advisory was lifted a week later.
In a News article from Thursday, Jan. 22, 1959, it was stated that “when the peak of the water’s rush was reached ... the current was strong enough to sweep men off their feet, send telephone poles and debris swirling along, and to float parked autos.”
On Friday, Jan. 23, 1959, the News reported an estimated 500 homes were damaged by the flood, with anywhere from 1 to 6 feet of water on the first floor. Another 25 homes were considered a complete loss. South McKenzie Street Extension saw the largest concentration of devastation, with 10 homes lost to the flood.
Commercial businesses were hard hit by the rising waters as well. Stores along South Main Street were believed to see the most damage. Water there was 12 feet deep in some places.
Fortunately, no deaths were reported and only nine people were injured during evacuation and rescue efforts.
Between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. that day, approximately 1,600 people were evacuated from the west and south sides of town. A total of 4,000 were reported to have been removed from flooded homes.
According to reports, the flood waters dispersed as quickly as they arrived, with cleanup beginning the next day.
Damage from the flood was estimated at $5 million with $1 million of that going to repair the dike and other city property. The remainder was attributed to homes and businesses.