The Washington Times-Herald

Local News

June 26, 2006

Blue Hole disaster part of local railroad history

The winter of 1912-13 was unusually warm and wet. By March, the soils all over Indiana were saturated. Circumstances were ominous if a wet spring should happen to follow. And it certainly did, all in one gigantic gullywasher.

On Thursday and Friday, March 20 and 21, all of Indiana was subjected to strong straight line winds and sleet, the result of a large Canadian high pressure zone which passed over the Midwest. On Saturday, the winds calmed and ice from the sleet melted. For those of a superstitious persuasion, or a belief in signs, it might be significant that there was a total eclipse of the moon that night.

High pressures are normally followed by lows, and everything would have been okay had the first high not stalled off Bermuda.

Another high pressure moved in from the Northwest and trapped the trailing low, soon to become two lows, in a narrow configuration running from Southern Illinois through Southern and Central Indiana and across Northern Ohio. That was when the real trouble started. First, a monster tornado tore into Terre Haute on Easter Sunday, the 23rd, plunging hundreds into instant homelessness. Torrential rainfall occurred over the next several days as the low pressure cells were trapped over Hoosierland.

In four days, three months worth of rain fell, as much as 9 inches in Southern Indiana. By March 24, the town of Washington had received 6.68 inches of rain in 36 hours. Shoals had 6 inches on Tuesday. All who know of the White River in that town can understand why some 400 people were homeless there, and rescues were made from rooftops.

The inevitable downflow of engorged streams accelerated until Southwest Indiana rivers were rising 4 inches in a night, then 2 inches per hour. The Wabash River reached a width of 35 miles. The Ohio at Evansville spanned 50 miles.

West of Washington, nature’s power was stirring up the White River bottomlands with unimaginable force. The B&O; Railroad had three vulnerable points west of town. Closest was Blue Hole, which had been scoured out in the 1875 flood. Next was the 90-foot hole, where Prairie Creek entered the White River. Then, the river itself.

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