PARKERSBURG, in WOOD COUNTY WEST VIRGINIA
THE 1937 FLOOD looking at FIFTH and JULIANA Street's
This article appeared in Broadcasting on Feb. 15, 1937.
By HAROLD McWHORTER
Manager, WPAR, Parkersburg, W. Va.
On Jan. 21, 1937, the citizens of Parkersburg and the Central Ohio Valley became conscious of the fact that a flood, perhaps of major proportion, might be expected. That consciousness was doomed to become a physical reality, and upon this premonition WPAR prepared for a service to be continuous until any threat to life and property might be dissipated.
On Friday, Jan. 22, reports from the Northern Ohio Valley gave complete background and authenticity to rumors formerly advanced that this flood was to be actually and without question one of the worst in the history of Parkersburg and vicinity, since that of 1913. At that moment, WPAR with studios in Parkersburg and Marietta, commandeered all facilities including human and mechanical to serve those whom the flood might rob of normal living conditions and privileges. The city of Marietta was the first consideration of our station, since that city was situated at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers.
Warnings were immediately broadcast to the business men and to the residents of the lower geographical areas of Marietta to evacuate and/or to prepare the evacuation of both residences and business establishments. Upon this warning evacuations of the city in those referred to areas was begun and by Friday evening the basement of Hotel Lafayette in which our studios are located, was being flooded as were other portions of the city. It was at that time, more commonly known in Marietta than in Parkersburg that the situation was without question to become serious. In order to continue our service to Marietta and environs our broadcasting equipment at that point was transferred to the lobby from which point sequential warnings and bulletins were broadcast.
WPAR cast aside all other phases of broadcasting activity and dedicated its available 24 hours a day to the service of humanity in general. By midnight Friday, the situation gave evidence of a likelihood of a heretofore unheard of flood. Throughout the night our agents not only stood by for warnings and reports, but also gave every assistance to local authorities, organizations, and agencies, humanly possible.
Then came Saturday morning, Jan. 23, and with it cold and snow, adding to the misery and desolation of the entire scene. Calls for help increased in frequency. Demands for vehicles and equipment increased in intensity, and facing these facts, WPAR began to devote 24 hours a day to securing this help and to assisting in the procuring of such mechanical vehicles and equipment which might become necessary in the elimination of human suffering and property loss. Saturday night, Marietta was almost completely submerged. Its business district offered a bed for the Ohio which chose not to sleep -- instead it chose the antics of one which might be disturbed by most fantastic nightmares and mental hallucinations. And so through its gigantic influence it spread fear through the minds of those who inhabited its once peaceful and beautiful valley.
Portsmouth, an industrial center of the southeastern Ohio Valley, inhabited by some 43,000 residents, was completely at the mercy of Neptune. Its 60 foot sea wall gave evidence of breaking and Saturday evening in lieu of that fact, this wall was cut and more than half of the city of Portsmouth became the home of the seething, rolling tide of water.
The local weather observatory offered a humble announcement that Tuesday might bring 56 to 57 feet, and that Wednesday might find the waters of the Ohio at a height of 60 feet in the Parkersburg flood zone. Every facility and means of communication with the outside world was practically "out," with the exception of WPAR. Not only was the matter of news, concerning the condition of the river, etc., broadcast, but we began the job of locating individuals carrying messages from families here and abroad to one another, so that fear for their well being might be avoided. Night and day, our service was continued. Saturday evening, January 23, WPAR began the job of raising money for the various relief agencies, and between 6 p.m. and midnight almost $1,400 had been paid, or pledged. By Monday evening the stage at Parkersburg was 54.5 feet, and still rising at the constant rate of .1 foot per hour. The situation became more tense fear of disease fear of food shortages fear for life of both humans and live stock became incessant.
After investigating each rumor and report, WPAR pounded away, hour after hour, attempting to dissipate false reports and at the same time, to impress upon those in danger the importance of care and precaution and to warn them of the possibility of the greatest flood since the historic one of 1913. Churches were turned into hotels, so to speak, and WPAR provided, through pleas, the clothing for beds and other necessary essentials for the comfort and protection of the less fortunate of the central Ohio Valley. Following our policy of serving public necessity, convenience, etc., all commercial broadcasts were cancelled the only object now was the preservation of life and property. And so we waited as the long hours passed by and the tide of the mighty Ohio growing, even more rapidly than the passing of hours.