The Flood of 1916 and Unprecedented Destruction in Western North Carolina

Asheville’s railroad yard after the 1916 flood. Image from the State ArchivesOn July 14, 1916, the worst flood in western North Carolina’s history occurred after six days of torrential rain. In one 24-hour period the region saw more than half of a normal year’s total rainfall. The 22 inches of rain that fell that day set the record for the most rainfall in a single day in the United States.

Because the ground was saturated, most of the water immediately filled streams and rivers, causing them to reach flood stage in just a few hours. Eighty people lost their lives and the property damage surpassed $22 million, $1 million of that in Asheville alone.

Asheville and Hendersonville were completely cut off from the outside for weeks. Railroad tracks that were not destroyed had their supports washed out from under them, leaving tracks eerily suspended over mud-covered ravines—895 miles of track were rendered useless.

Everyone was taken by surprise at the speed with which the water rose. People were stranded in trees when their cars or homes were overwhelmed and they had nowhere else to go. Industrial plants along the rivers were swept away and landslides engulfed homes.

For most of western North Carolina this flood remains the benchmark for disasters.

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