A new look at Southwest Nebraska's biggest disaster

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Eighty years ago later this month, it began to rain in Southwest Nebraska.

By the time it was done, nine inches had fallen, filling the Frenchman, Red Willow, Medicine, Deer, Muddy and Turkey creeks, the runoff all pouring into the Republican River at the same time.

Downstream, the roar of the water coming could be heard five miles away. First one, then another crest rolled down the river, rising 6 feet in 30 minutes, some 10 to 15 feet higher than the previous record crest, by one account, another claiming it rose 10 feet in 12 minutes in McCook.

It was 20 feet deep in some places, and some 280,000 cubic feet of water per second, more than 320 times the normal flow today. A utility pole at the west shelter in Barnett Park carries a sign, high in the air, illustrating the high-water mark at McCook.

An estimated 113 people were killed, as well as thousands of head of cattle, their carcasses blocking the roads.

More than 340 miles of highway and 307 bridges were destroyed and 74,500 acres of farmland was inundated.

Coming up on the 80th anniversary of Southwest Nebraska's biggest disaster, Regional Editor Connie Jo Discoe has begun assembling new stories about the event.

Central is a comprehensive new book by Joy Hayden of the National Weather Service in Goodland, Kan., the "1935 Republican River Flood." It's available locally at New Life Christian Books in McCook and elsewhere.

You can also check out a website she established on the subject here: http://1.usa.gov/1KNtTck

That book includes famous photographs of McCook's power plant, where workers were trapped, and a water tower that washed away in the flood.

Whatever happened to that water tower?

Connie Jo tracked it down, and we'll be publishing that story as part of our coverage of the anniversary.

We're also doing our best to update as much information and we can, including adding to the list those who lost their lives.

We'd like our readers' help in this project.

If you have information or photographs not published before, please contact us here at the Gazette. Call Connie Jo Discoe at (308) 345-4500 ext. 120, email regionalnews@mccookgazette.com with your information.

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