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The Lake Erie Seiche Disaster of 1844 | People

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The Lake Erie Seiche Disaster of 1844
People, Weather
The Lake Erie Seiche Disaster of 1844

Tremendous Gale!  Awful Destruction of Lives and Property!

October 21 & 22, 1844  Buffalo Morning Express & The Commercial Advertiser

    This flood (*Seiche) occurred October 18, 1844.  It was the most disastrous that has ever occurred since the city was founded. It came without warning, an avalanche of waters upon a sleeping community, many of whom were drowned and many of whom had narrow escapes from a similar fate.  For several days before the occurrence of the flood a strong north- east wind had been driving the water up the lake, but on the evening of the 18th a sudden shift of the wind took place, and it blew from the opposite direction with a tremendous force never before or since known to the inhabitants of Buffalo. It brought with it immense volumes of water in a tremendous wave, which overflowed the lower districts of the city and vicinity, demolishing scores of buildings, and spreading ruin along the harbor front, playing havoc with shipping, and causing an awful destruction of human life. 

Tremendous Gale!  Awful Destruction of Lives and Property!

    On Friday night last the city was visited by a most tremendous gale, which, for destruction of life and property has no parallel in this part of the country. The gale commenced blowing from the southwest about 12 o'clock (midnight) and in less than half an hour the whole lower part of the city south of the canal from Black Rock to the Hydraulics was submerged in water from two to eight feet in depth. On the east side of the city the water came as high as Seneca Street below Michigan and completely covered it.  So rapid was the advance of the water that we are told by an individual residing on the other side of the creek, being awakened by the noise of the wind, and anticipating a rise in waters, hastily aroused his family, and before he could get his pants on, the water was over three feet deep in the house.

    An individual who was on Main street near the bridge represents the water as coming up in one huge wave of about four feet in depth. Houses were blown down--unroofed--cellars flooded; in fact the great amount of damage done almost instantaneously....

   The height to which the water rose was altogether unprecedented.  This may be accounted for the fact that for several days previous to the gale, a very stiff easterly wind had been blowing.  This had driven the water up the lake, or at least lessened the volume escaping by the river.  When the wind shifted to the Southwest, and blew with such fury, the water came down before it as if a dam had broken away.  It rose twenty-two feet above the level which it stood Friday evening.....

   The steamboat Robert Fulton, after losing two or three passengers, who were washed overboard, was piled upon the sand beach above Sturgeon point, and will be a total loss; When the St. Louis was opposite Dunkirk she broke her shaft, and when paying out into the trough of the sea, four of her passengers were swept overboard and lost. She was eventually blown into the Niagara River channel sideways at daybreak, and was rescued by a steam ferry boat and pulled her in to the foot of Ferry Street....

  Steamer G. W. Dale was floated across Ohio street.  Steamer Bunker Hill high and dry up the creek.  Steamer Columbus driven into a pasture 200 feet from the creek. Brig Europe reached Buffalo damaged in her hull and outfit. Steamer Chautauque is ashore on her beam's end near Black Rock. Schr. J.F. Porter is on her side at the dock near Wilson's Coal Yard. The Commodore Perry came in about 12 o'clock friday night in a most shattered condition, her wheelhouse being smashed in--and the boat almost a cripple--in coming in she ran into the Great Western, after which she ran her bowspirit through the side of the Wayne, where she remained fastened...

  Upwards of eighty canal boats went ashore between Buffalo and Black Rock. In the lower districts there were many harbor craft and canal boats left by the receding waters, many canal boats being out on the commons, on Division, Eagle and Clinton streets. South Buffalo was strewn with miscellaneous wreckage of all kinds. It is safe to say that upwards of two hundred small buildings in the lower part of the city have been entirely destroyed. There is scarcely a house in it's original position on the other side of the Creek. At the corner of Main and Ohio streets the water was six feet deep and at Michigan and Exchange streets it was five feet deep....

   The sea wall and stone pier of the harbor have been also very seriously damaged--extensive breeches have been made in the breakwater extending from the lighthouse--and large stones many tons in weight, have been carried from ten to twenty feet from their original position. The track of the Attica Buffalo railroad for a mile and a half was washed up so that the cars had to leave the Hydraulics in the afternoon--the woods on the line of the road were leveled with the ground....

   The most appalling part of the calamity is the loss of life.  It is impossible to get at any thing like accuracy in our estimate.  The number brought up to the court house for inquest was twenty-nine--these; with one killed and two, (Mr. Havens and his boy) not taken to the courthouse, make 32; to them may be added three lost on the Robert Fulton and four on the St. Louis, make 39 in all, besides several who are missing.  It is impossible to speak with any certainty of the number of lives lost....

Story CONTINUES in THE BUFFALO HISTORY GAZETTE

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