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The Buffalo "Tsunami" of 1844 | News

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The Buffalo "Tsunami" of 1844
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The Buffalo "Tsunami" of 1844

  This flood 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. 

    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 pantaloons on, the water was over three feet deep in the house.  

   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.

  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 suddenness of the storm and the wave of water filled up basements and first floors in a matter of minutes and in some cases, seconds, leaving no chance of escape for sleeping tenants.  At Huff's hotel, at the corner of Main and Scott streets, the water was six feet deep!  Many were just swept into the Lake.

     There were other stories and probably many of them, that had happy endings. Two families in the same house went up to the second floor to be safe, but the water rose even higher and chased them to the roof. The water however pushed the house off it's foundation and floated it away.   Pretty soon the roof split into two rafts, a family on each. "The two rafts were borne safely across the Creek and over a large portion of the flats, making over a mile of the most fearful midnight voyaging that ever a man, wife and child underwent....."

Many more details of this tragedy continues in the Buffalo History Gazette (click here)

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