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1961 Harrison Flood
Another anniversary of the flood of 1961
May 8, 2006
By J.E. Dunlap, Jr., Times Publisher Emeritus
J.E. Dunlap, Jr.
May 7, 1961 - If you were a resident of the area, you can remember the disastrous flood on Crooked Creek which caused four deaths and over $5 million in damages.

On this 45th anniversary, I reprint one of my columns on the disaster.

From a 1971 article:

"100-year flood" - a phrase used by the Corps of Engineers.

It rained last night - more than inch. It rained 10 years ago last night more than five inches in a three-hour period for a total of more than 11 inches in a 48-hour period.

Ten years ago this morning a bright sun was shining over the muddy and soaked ruins of 80 percent of the business district of Harrison after the city had suffered its greatest disaster - a devastating, flash flood on Crooked Creek in the early morning hours of May 7, 1961, with damage running from $5 million to $10 million, four deaths and innumerable inconveniences for hundreds of citizens for months to come.
"The sun is shining brightly today in more ways than one over a city which refused to die and which bounced back through the determination of its citizens and help from the outside.
The ravaged section covered over 200 acres in downtown Harrison but private enterprise and a $4 million Urban Renewal project together with low-cost Small Business Administration loans has rehabilitated the once stricken area.
City, county, state and federal governments, along with private enterprise, have brought about the changes, and the continued growth of the city is reflected in the overall healthy economic picture of today.
Many suffered financially during the weeks and months and years of recovery and there are still some scars today. But the citizens banded together in a unified effort to restore the damage wrought by Mother Nature.
But, a decade later, nothing has been done to prevent another such disaster other than the widening of the creek bed, the removal of some obstructions along the stream's bank within the city limits and some levee work.
Various plans were proposed for a few years after the flood to build 19 small retardation earthen dams on tributaries up-stream through cooperation of the Soil Conservation District and a larger size dam on the east fork of Crooked Creek, but landowners, city and federal officials couldn't get together and the danger of another 100-year flood as the 1961 catastrophe was labeled could happen again.
The 1961 flash flood was built up by 11 inches of. rain. A five-inch rain in a three-hour period shortly after midnight sent a wall of water 12 to 14 feet high over the levee near city hall and into the business district.
Several businessmen and women were trapped by the surging, swirling waters which struck at 3:30a.m. Many were not rescued for several hours. Contents of buildings on three sides of the square - east, south and west - and along Central and Stephenson Avenues, were swept out by the flood waters.
Several buildings collapsed. Hundreds of autos were swept around like match sticks. Thirty homes near the creek were washed away or moved from their foundations. Eight Harrison High School buses were destroyed.
Some 80 percent of the business district was either partially or completely destroyed. There were other highlights:
  • Schools were dismissed a month early for the 1960-61 term;
  • City water was not usable for several days and milk companies and nearby towns brought in water;
  • Mass typhoid inoculations were held;
  • Communication and power lines were knocked out for several days. * National Guardsmen and State Police were on duty 24 hours a day;
  • Newcomers since have found it difficult to comprehend the severity of the flood - but it happened;
  • Almost all the scars have vanished now, but much progress was made possible by a $4 million Urban Renewal project, which was matched by City funds on a 4-to-1 basis.
    Harrison Daily Times 2006
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