- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) - Rain began to fall around 6:30 on the evening of July 19, 1977, and turned into a downpour by late evening.

By the morning of July 20, 1977, 11 inches of rain had been dumped onto the Johnstown region, bursting dams and flooding the city and surrounding neighborhoods.

The full impact of the Johnstown flood of 1977 became clear days later, and the toll was enormous: 85 dead - half of them in the community of Tanneryville; millions of dollars in property damage.

The storm’s devastation struck from Moxham and Hornerstown to Conemaugh to the West End and beyond to Seward and Robindale.

The downtown was submerged.

And “so much mud,” Johnstown resident Mike “Tank” Brown recalled in 2007, 30 years after - as a teenager - he had helped his hometown clean up and recover.

“I remember I woke up and looked at Woodvale from a distance, and you could see it was under water,” Brown recalled.

“But when you went down to the Prospect Bridge, you could see the water all over town. It was pretty devastating and smelly.”

Residents of many West Virginia communities are dealing with the same hardships from flooding there last month.

Understanding Johnstowners have responded with donations of supplies and money.

This week brings the 39th anniversary of the third major flood to hit Johnstown - and that storm’s impact can still be felt around the area.

“The flood still has an effect on the city of Johnstown today,” said Richard Burkert, president and chief executive officer of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association.

The 1977 flood dealt a major blow to the city, both physically and economically.

Many downtown businesses damaged by the flood did not reopen.

The city’s population slid from 42,221 in 1970 to 34,221 by 1980, a 19.4 percent decline.

“At the time, there were negative trends in the steel mill industry, and in Johnstown that the flood made worse,” Burkert said.

“There were signs that there were going to be some tough times ahead. In 1973, Bethlehem Steel announced that they would be making some technological changes in the mill and that there would be a lower level of employment in the Johnstown plant.

“When the flood occurred, all of the plant’s improvements were wiped out.”

Property damage reached $300 million, and hundreds of people were left homeless.

“When they did start modernizing (the steel industry) after the flood, it was totally different and never complete,” Burkert said. “I think that was a big missed opportunity for revitalizing the steel industry in Johnstown, and I think that the flood made all that worse.

“The 1977 flood put off investment into the Bethlehem mill here, and that all came to fruition in 1992 when the plant closed.”

Burkert also noted that the flood created a migration of retail business from the downtown district.

“That was the beginning of the end,” he said. “The city is still struggling to get people to come downtown. These were all problems that the city had anyway, but the flood hastened these issues and the city never really recovered.”

Burkert said: “The area has done well in recovering since the flood, but it was really at the expense of the city.”


Online: https://bit.ly/29RgUMb


Information from: The Tribune-Democrat, https://www.tribune-democrat.com

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