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The Birmingham News Thursday, January 31, 1957

Heroism, humor mix with slimy flood of Hazard's catastrophe

Ruin and death strike mining town -
by Bill Waugh (AP)
This coal mining center today is a city of slime, death and grimness. Receding waters revealed five deaths and a city left devastated by the worst flood here since 1927.

Swirling waters, ranging in depth from one foot to more than 10, for 18 hours unleashed their fury on the downtown section of this mountain community of 7000 residents.

During those hours a fire cost the lives of an elderly couple who had taken refuge in another home. About 65 other persons who had been given shelter there escaped. Drownings took three lives.

An explosion at the city's power plant cut off all electrical power in the area, a second fire destroyed the city's main machine repair shop.

LAST NIGHT, Hazard was without electricity, telephone service, ample water and many of its homeless residents were in need of clothing and bedding. No less than 50 homes were swept away by the raging torrents.

The city's 80-bed United Mine Workers Memorial Hospital was without power. Much of its laboratory equipment was feared destroyed. Hospital attendants in the maternity ward were keeping premature babies alive with hot water bottles.

Emergency aid - from Ft. Knox and the Red Cross – began arriving or were en route.

MANY RESIDENTS were caught unprepared. The 1927 flood, 34 feet above normal, didn't touch their homes. This one topped that by four feet.

Streets were filled with slime as silt mixed with coal dust which normally covers the buildings and streets. Many persons who work in the numerous surrounding mines were out salvaging wood for fireplaces and stoves.

No less than 50 homes were swept away by the raging torrents

All business was at a stand-still. The flood waters reached the center of town about 11 a.m. Tuesday, rising as fast as six feet in a two-hour period.

But this hearty mining community didn't lose its sense of humor. One shopkeeper, his place a total wreck, laughingly pointed to a theater marquee which read "Away All Boats." Another commented wryly: "We wished we had them (boats) all  back."

At a bridge three miles from town three homes were crushed against the bridge pilings. On one side of the broken buildings someone had pinned a note: "Please don't bother, it belongs to Earl Begley, next door."

Clothing, tires and other debris hung from large trees lining the river's bank.

Many stories of heroic action were told. One elderly couple refused to leave their endangered home. But an unidentified Negro went into the house, bodily carrying them to safety.

One heroic rescue effort ended in tragedy. Mack Hill, a Negro coal miner, went to the aid of two stranded white women. Hill's boat capsized and he was swept to his death. The women clung to debris and were picked up by another boat.

Arriving Army units brought C-rations, a field kitchen, an ambulance, first aid equipment and several boats.

An accurate estimate of damage was impossible, but Dewey Daniel, president of People's Bank, said the river area from Neon to Irvine would suffer a loss of at least $250 million.