A write up of our experiences in California would be incomplete without mention of the great flood that occurred on the night of March 3, 1938. I can best give you an on-the-scene report of the flood as I wrote it to our family and friends under date of March 21, 1938, which is as follows:
Anaheim, California, March 21, 1938
Dear Friends:
We have received so many inquiries from our very good friends that we take this means of answering their very welcome letters, and of giving
you some idea as to the flood conditions we have recently experienced.
As a matter of fact, we have gone through a greater disaster that we even
yet thinking clearly, and have not yet set to figure out the dollar loss, and
it is appalling, and the newspapers have not told half the story. In our own
instance, our home stayed on foundation, is not wrecked or twisted, but
floors will all have to be entirely new, walls papered or refinished, outside
walls taken off to remove silt between studding, etc. etc., the garage moved
two inches closer to the house and the walls are somewhat caved in, and in
all we estimate our own expense to be from $500 to $700, paying no
attention at all to much clothing and linen lost and destroyed, also all of my
law books at home amounting to some $250.00, an old Mills family Bible
more than 100 years old and all of our own family pictures. If you have
never been thru a flood you cannot realize the destruction it makes. I
expect there are 200 houses in Anaheim either off their foundations, badly
twisted, or down the street from 100 feet to four blocks from original
position. It really is terrible, and we are just beginning to realize it. Togel’s
house (next to us on North) lifted from foundations, floor buckled, an 800
pound oil tank crashed a hole in the walls, and he agrees with me that it will
take from $1800 to $2000 to put his house back in fair order. And, have in
mind that we were five blocks from the worst of the flood, and you will
begin to get a glimpse of the picture.
In fact, pictures tell the story better than words. As the waters were
receding and daylight approaching, I got the old camera into action (with
full roll of films) and herewith hand you the results. The folks said I was
crazy to take pictures while we were in such drastic difficulties, but there
was nothing more at the moment to do, hence the pictures. They are all of
our own home and garage, and will give you a better conception of the
flood. I did not attempt to get other pictures: In fact I have seen TOO
MUCH: we don’t want to see more: it is difficult to write regarding it, but
we wish to give you some of the facts: so we will write you rather
Mr. and Mrs. Peek (Mrs. Porter’s older sister and her husband, who have been visiting us from Huron, South Dakota – – and Mrs. Peek just
recovering from pneumonia), I am sure did not realize the danger involved, and neither did Myrtle. Water was in our house within five minutes
after we had notice by the fire whistle, and the roar of the coming water was something we will always remember with horror, for we could not
tell whether it was two feet or twenty feet high: but through it all I think I kept my nerve and poise without a break though Mylet (our son) and
I had calmly discussed the possibility of the house going, had dug out such tools as we could find, and Mylet was to go through the ceiling and
roof when the water went over the tabletops, though it never got that deep. In fact we joked and jollied throughout it all, has gas in the upper
burners of the kitchen range and made coffee and chocolate and to all appearances enjoyed ourselves as best we could. As the water came up
we got tables together, jerked down two doors (incidentally breaking one of them in doing so) and made a platform, for the Peeks and Myrtle,
and Mylet and I stood in water from four am until one pm without sitting down and have experienced no ill effects. After it was all over,
however, and our own boys showed up my nerve broke, and it is difficult indeed for me to write or talk about it yet, so I will not go any further
into that. Myrtle has stood it splendidly, but the continued dirt, confusion and uncertainty is getting her nerve just now, and it is in every way
very discouraging indeed.
I am going to take time and space to give you a brief word picture of the
situation leading up to the flood: the Santa Ana River comes through the
mountains and opens up into a fan shaped flat about thirteen miles wide,
with Fullerton on the North and Santa Ana on the South, and with Anaheim
right in the old original riverbed. In fact, the town of Anaheim is eight feet
below the bottom of the riverbed some one and a half miles east of town.
The water has always been kept back by Dykes (dry eleven months in the
year); two large bridges span the river east of Anaheim, one up about
three miles and the next about six miles. Two houses lodged on the upper
bridge, causing a dam, and the levy broke near the upper bridge, some six
or seven miles from Anaheim: town of Atwood out, with loss of many lives
there, spreading as it came, until water covered the entire thirteen mile
spread from Fullerton to Santa Ana, being perhaps two feet deep in places
to twelve feet deep in others; it was rushing through our own yard four or
four and a half feet deep with power to move heavy trucks or turn over
houses, and no person could have stood or swam in the current coursing
through our yard. The flood, or course, was not confined to our own
locality, for the entire Southland suffered. In the Mount Baldy area, just
east of Pomona, some 150 or 200 homes were entirely washed away and
the same situation exists in almost every canyon. It rained 14 inches in the
mountains on Wednesday following a rain of 8 inches the day before, a
total of 22 inches in 48 hours. They roughly estimate the total loss at
$62,000,000.00 but we who have lived here for many years and are
somewhat familiar with the situation and the losses sustained are of the
opinion that the total loss will be twice the amount mentioned, or more. As
in every disaster, the actual loss of life is not being reported. So far as we
can determine, there were 22 or 24 lives lost in Anaheim alone, and they
are still finding bodies, but you hear little about it, 87 lost in the whole flood
A man and his wife rode the roof of their house from Atwood to within a
mile of Anaheim (some 5 miles) and saved their lives; a friend of mine at
the edge of Anaheim watched his 3 ton truck wash away, grabbed a coat
and took to a tree and stayed there till morning. He was over 75 and has
not yet recovered from the effects of the experience and his mind is
somewhat affected by it. A friend of mine just yesterday told me of
watching two automobiles rushing from the flood, driving into the river
where the bridge had washed out and that nothing was seen of them later.
Practically every bridge is out. Our own neighbors a block to the north of
us tried to get to their car, water came to their waists before they got it
started and they fought their way back to the house with desperate effort,
the water came far up in their house and they came through, and aside
from the fact that she had hysterics and had to go to the hospital for a time,
is now all right.
Along with the serious things, we found some funny ones: Son Ellis works in the bank at Placentia, and one of the bank men bought a riding
horse the day of the flood, put it in a barn, bought hay and feed – and horse, hay and all were washed into the river. He was lamenting his loss
next day, looked out the bank window and saw a Mexican riding his horse – hence recovery.
A man who drives a large truck for one of the ice companies lives a block from us ( or DID): when the flood hit they apparently thought they
could get out in the truck, for when daylight came we could look out and see the truck with the nose hanging down into a hole, the water
halfway up on the windshield, and the rain wiper was running right along, back and forth, just above the water, and it kept running some four
hours after we first saw it. It looked funny, working away just above the surface of the water.
Another thing, while it may be a trifle out of place to recall: as the Peeks and Myrtle sat on
the improvised platform, and Mylet and I had been standing in the water for hours, an
ordinary old fashioned slop jar came floating out through the hall door and circled the
dining room. Just something to give us a laugh at the right time, I guess.
And a thing that is NOT so funny, as the water began to rise the pressure in the river
apparently forced the sewerage back through the pipes, and for some six minutes or more
a stream of dirty filthy materials poured out of our bathroom stool, and it was a most
discussing and offensive situation I assure you. I better get onto a better smelling subject.
And how our friends have stood by – loyalty and encouragement from every source. The
trouble appears to have cemented neighborly friendships and to have cured some slights
and misunderstandings; and the encouragement we have received has given us courage to
“carry on”, for it would be easy indeed to become discouraged and feel that it is not
worthwhile to work out, but give us time and we will still be on top of the heap, though a
little muddy in spots.
The drinking water is a serious problem. Anaheim depends upon seven deep water wells
for it’s domestic supply, and six of them have been contaminated and declared unsafe for
use, hence most of us are using bottled water, and if we use any of the other it must be
boiled some time.
Sewage is also a problem, but in our own section of the city we are not troubled, but there is a heavy deposit of silt over the entire town (the
business section had from a foot to two feet of water in every place of business and every basement full), and the silt is loaded with rotting
oranges and debris of all sorts and is becoming a distinct nuisance. Deposit of some five inches in all yards and lawns and gardens and under all
residences, and the same amount in the homes, and we are gradually digging it out and piling it in the streets where WPA men cart it away. They
report the finding of new bodies almost every day, and have a crew of men searching all alleys, yards and corners for bodies of humans and
animals. One rancher of whom son Ellis is acquainted told him that they had found seven human bodies in his orange grove. My heart goes out
to the pets and dumb beasts, for many of them are homeless and without care.
While on the table we connected up an electric heating pad, but in the confusion, Myrtle dropped it into the water and we had to turn it off to
avoid blowing a fuse with the wet pad.
We were practically under martial law for nearly two weeks, and it was necessary to have a pass to get in and out of town, particularly on the
side streets. The main arteries, of course, were open through town after the first few days. The state militia and the veterans did noble work and
are to be in all things complemented. Some looting was had the first night, but after that it was held down to practically nil.
I must tell of one more incident that to me was real funny: Mr. Peek is modesty in the extreme. In getting Mrs. Peek and Myrtle up onto the
improvised platform above water, Mr. Peek got his feet and undies wet. We insisted that he get up out of the water, with the ladies on the tables,
and that he get into some dry underwear. Privacy was just nil. He refused to change his union suit, so I looked around for a pair of shears with
which to cut off the wet part of the legs, so we finally induced him to make the change on the table, but it is something he don’t care to discuss,
as to how and where he changed his undies!
This letter is long, is disconnected and the ground has not been half covered, but it will give you some inside views on the situation, and I hope
may not be boresome. Will explain the pictures on a separate page.
Very sincerely,