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Johnstown Flood Essay

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McCullough presents a meticulously researched, detailed account of the Johnstown Flood of May 31st 1889, which provides arguments for why the disaster was both “the work of man” and “a visitation of providence”. However, it is apparent that McCullough believes that man was more responsible than nature/god for the extent of the catastrophe. In McCullough’s opinion, the storm that caused the flood was no more than the inevitable stimulus of the disaster, whereas the deferred maintenance and poor repairs on the dam were the primary reason that Johnstown was devastated in 1889. McCullough exposes the failed duties of Benjamin Ruff and other members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, whilst simultaneously questioning the…show more content…
He also explains how heavy rainfall in 1879 and 1881 caused further damage. This information sets a precedent for the disaster of 1889.
McCullough once again reiterates the responsibility of man prior to the 1889 disaster with the example of Daniel J. Morrell’s concerns in 1880. He sent John Fulton on behalf of the Cambria Iron Works to inspect the dam, where two major structural problems were found: there was no discharge pipe to reduce water in the dam, and, the previous repair left a leak that cut into the dam. This initial warning and advice was rejected, even after their offer to pay for repairs. McCullough then points out that there were in fact four other crucial problems that needed to be repaired that had not been noticed by Fulton. The height of the dam had been lowered, reducing the height between the crest and the spillway. A screen of iron rods were put across the spillway, which would decrease its capacity when clogged by debris. The dam sagged in the center so it was lower than at the ends when the center should have been highest and strongest. Lastly, the club brought the level of the lake nearly to the top so there was no reserve capacity for a severe storm. By indicating the many problems with the dam prior to the great flood of 1889 and the South Fork Club’s refusal to acknowledge the potential danger, McCullough is leaving little doubt to the reader of his
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