As Rose slept not twenty miles away to the east the thriving river city of Paducah was preparing for the worst flood they would ever see. The townspeople started packing what belongings they could carry into horse drawn wagons, cars, and trucks. All river traffic had ceased due to the rising waters of the Ohio River. Fears of ships being overcome by the currents or hitting sandbars had increased over the last few days and the steady flow of supplies dried up as a result of the inclement weather.
Paducah, since the early 1920’s, had grown into a thriving river city and many settlers much to their pleasure found Paducah an excellent place to call home. Wildlife seemed to be abundant as was good farm land. The winters were not as cold as they were in the northern states and the many lakes, streams, and flat land made it an ideal environment for a vast assortment of people from different cultures. Industry had exploded prior to the Great Depression and there was a massive influx of new blood which helped the city boom. Now people of different nationalities and diverse cultures began to leave the place they had firmly dug their roots into. News broadcasts were few and far in between. What little news they did receive from the outside world was grim, it rung of gloom, doom, and disaster. Fear had gripped the residents not only of the city but the outlying areas as well. Rain, rain, and more rain seemed to be the unsettling news they heard.
Paducah was comprised of a vast smattering of mercantile stores, livery stables, hotels, restaurants, seed companies, hardware stores, headquarters for the barge lines, barber shops, movie houses, offices for the railroad, local government, and yes a few bars. The city leaders tried at the beginning of the crises to discourage people from abandoning their businesses and homes, but soon dispatched the news that evacuation was imperative.
So as the rain continued to fall and the Ohio River expanded the vast population of Paducah, somewhere around 15,000 people at the time, began leaving and moving away from the river. There were those families that opted to stay. Their businesses were two or more stories tall and it seemed to them a good idea to remain.
Andrew Long and his wife refusing to leave the mercantile store they had built from the ground up started carrying supplies to the second level of their building. Food, blankets, and other sundries they might need were painstakingly pulled from shelves and taken to the upper level. He and his wife and one of their neighbors Billy Wright had worked to stock the second floor area.
“Well Andrew,” Billy said wiping the perspiration on his sleeve, “that’s the last of it.”
“Thanks,” Andrew replied that same look of gloom on his face which had been there for days, “not a moment too soon. Water’s already come in under the front door.”
Mrs. Long sat looking out of the second floor window. She had been watching the water advance first along the river’s bank then up Broadway. A sigh escaped her ashen lips and she crossed herself. The two men could hear her praying God’s protection on the store as well as the people in the store. Mr. Long walked over to his wife of 30 years and embraced her.
“It’ll be okay honey.” Andrew said as he kissed her forehead.
“I sure hope so Andrew,” she answered in a harsh whisper, “I sure hope so,”
“Gonna be a bad one,” Billy said shaking his head.
“Yep, Billy,” Andrew answered, “sure looks that way.”
“Maybe we should go, too,” Mrs. Long interjected.
“Don’t be silly now Miss,” Billy answered smiling, “we’ll be fine right here.”
Having uttered the words to Andrew’s wife, Billy seemed satisfied that they had done the right and proper thing. He too walked to the window and watched as the dark, gray water churned its way down the now deserted street. Trash and paper floated in the grimy liquid as it ran rampant on its new course through the heart of this city he called home.
The streets of Paducah had become a wave of people, some in a panic, trying to escape the influx of water. To compound the situation the temperature started dropping and roadways began to freeze. For days the majority of the residents made their way to relatives who lived on higher ground. None of the inhabitants could imagine to what extent their lives would change and for how long. Some people prayed, others cursed, and others just felt as if it was the next great adventure.
It was not long before those who had decided not to leave discovered the folly of their ways. With no heat and the weather turning colder some suffered from exhaustion, dehydration, frost bite, exposure, and starvation. A nightmare unfolded as the rain continued to fall and hope began to disappear.
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