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January 21, 1959: Statewide Flood

Rains of 3 to 6 inches fell on snow covered frozen ground, producing the most destructive flooding in Ohio since March 1913. All streams reached flood stage from January 21 to 24, killing 16 people, forcing 49,000 from their homes, and causing extensive damage to homes, businesses, roads, and bridges. Classic winter flood conditions existed across Ohio during January 1959. Soil frozen a foot deep was overlain by a snow cover. A band of heavy rain fell across central Ohio on the headwaters of many of the state’s largest rivers, causing the snow to melt and, with frozen ground, nearly all of the water poured into streams.

On many streams, the flood levels of January 1959 were the highest since March 1913 and the second or third highest on record. The streets of Mansfield were under four feet of water and industries were closed by floodwaters in Youngstown and Canton. Columbus was the most severely affected of Ohio’s major cities, with many streets flooded, 100 homes badly damaged, and 3200 evacuees cared for at Red Cross shelters. One-third of Chillicothe was flooded when the Scioto River broke through a levee of sandbags. High water and ice jams on the Sandusky River flooded Upper Sandusky, Tiffin, and Fremont. Deaths and damage were much less than in the March 1913 flood because the January 1959 flood was less intense, flood-control reservoirs were built after 1913, and there was better communication of warnings, organized rescue work, and more adequate design of bridges and other structures.


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