The Anita Republican Reports
On June 3, 1903, The Anita Republican reported on a number of weather disasters: a fatal tornado in Georgia; flooding in Topeka, Kansas, accompanied by a fire at a lumber yard. But the Anita newspaper focuses its detailed story on the flooding in southern Iowa, especially in Des Moines. Although they have nothing to say about Atlantic, their own county seat on the East Nishnabotna River, what they say about flood effects and response is a valuable window onto Iowa flood effects and response over a century ago.
Heavy rain over east and central Kansas, eastern Nebraska, northeastern Missouri, and southern Iowa in the last days of May produced misery for many of those affected. In Des Moines twenty-two fatalities are reported. But giving us some sense of the confusion, the article explains that while two of these reports are “certain,” “four [are] believed to be authentic, four reasonably authentic, the other twelve doubtful.”
What is not in doubt is the flood’s assault on the city’s infrastructure. 16 ice houses, half of the city’s ice supply, is gone, and the other half is in imminent danger of being lost. The power plant of the streetcar company has been abandoned, and there is no car service possible for several days. The water works, electric light plant, and gas plant are all described as in “imminent danger of closing down.” The railroads, grades, and bridges have been seriously damaged. Not surprisingly, business is suspended.
Most worrying are the 2,000 to 8,000 people left homeless by the flooding. While city residents devote their energy to caring for the homeless at churches and school houses, doctors worry about the pneumonia they are seeing, especially among the homeless children. The rain that had been heavy was also accompanied by unseasonable cold leaving the most vulnerable susceptible to dangerous pneumonia.
Even as the flood waters receded, health risks remained. Water trapped behind earthen dykes was a breeding ground for fever, doctors feared (apparently through mosquito vectors although they are not named). City leaders expressed the belief that the flood’s after effects would be more of a challenge than the high water as they expect the homeless to be in need of alternative shelter and care for at least six weeks.
Source: SHSI: The Anita Republican, June 3, 1903.