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Nebraska Historical Markers: The Republican River Flood of 1935

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Nebraska’s Deadliest Flood

The year was 1935.

Alcoholics Anonymous was created. Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Persia became known as Iran. A big year with a lot of big developments happened in 1935.

The United States was in the middle of the Great Depression. The stock market was in the tank. Farmers were barely making ends meet. Well, those that could still make ends meet did. Many and given up on the endeavor and moved elsewhere.

The Midwest was in the middle of a drought that had been going on for years. Water was scarce and the rain that brought it was even more so. The land was parched. Farming practices from years past had stripped the land of many of it’s nutrients and resources. New ones came along throughout those years with hope of making this land usable once again. Some of those did work, while others did not.

This gets us to today’s topic, the Republican River Flood of 1935. This flood has become known as the deadliest flood in Nebraska’s history. When people talk of something being in “biblical proportions”, this is what they are talking about. This flood was that devastating.

It all took place in the Republican River area of south central Nebraska. Just north of the Kansas/Nebraska border. In total, the Republican River runs 453 miles. It starts where the North Fork Republican River and Airkaree Rivers come together in Dundy County. It meanders east until it heads south into Kansas. A major river to this day in south central Nebraska.

Between the evening of May 30th and June 1st an estimated 9 inches of rain fell upon the area. It fell in eastern Colorado and Southwestern Nebraska and pushed east as it moved along.

The direction of this storm and where it was coming from and heading to was apart of the problem. The storm pushed through in the same direction of the river basin. Because of this all the local creeks and tributaries filled up quickly and pushed into the Republican River. Due to the drought the land could not take this sudden influx of water.

Banks were quickly pushed to their brink. The Republican River Valley was quickly engulfed. The river was estimated to be moving roughly 8 miles a miles per hour and the force of the water will increase to 264 pounds per foot. That’s enough pressure to push a car off the road. Many vehicles and anything else that stood in it’s way would easily succumb.

Very little time was had to evacuate this flood. In the end an estimated 113 people were killed. Anywhere from 11,000 to over 41,000 cattle were estimated lost. Roads were covered with so many lost livestock that they could not be used until they were cleared.

Roughly 341 miles of highway was destroyed. 207 bridges in the area were gone. and over 74,000 acres of farm land was covered. The video below show’s how large the flooding was and the damage that it brought.

Because of this event there were six dams built. Five of which are in Nebraska. These not only helped halt future flooding but has also made irrigation much easier in the area. Two such spots turned into major reservoirs for recreation. Those being Harlan County Reservoir and Swanson Lake.