Before the construction of the major flood control dams along the Colorado River, the water way proved to be very unpredictable. Water levels varied depending upon the season. Steamboats became stuck on sand bars at low water, while at high water the river could become a raging force.
The flood of 1916 was one of the worst ever recorded in Yuma, Arizona. Undermined by a pack of mischievous gophers, the levee gave way on January 16, 1916. Within three hours, the water was four feet deep and flooded Main Street. About that same time, the government reclamation levee broke at the four mile post in the lower Colorado Valley. The town of Yuma seemed doomed!
Yuma residents quick moved to safety on higher grounds or sand hills. To their dismay, so did the scorpions and snakes. Town folk watched as businesses and adobe buildings melted away to mud, and quickly floated past them. There were an estimated total of one hundred homes destroyed or damaged by the raging waters. Some of the homeless were quick to search for building materials left behind and the abandoned Yuma Territorial Prison site.
One of the buildings destroyed was the home of The Sun newspaper. Twenty years of early Yuma history was lost forever as the newspaper office was swept away the rising flood. Thousands of acres of agricultural land on both sides of the river were flooded and irrigation canals were filled to the breaking point.
When it was learned the Catholic Rectory was endangered by the flooding waters, the men in town acted quickly to brace the church with sandbags. Fortunately, there was no record of serious injuries or death during the flooding.
One of the amazing photos snapped during the flood was of the children who stopped to play on the stored undertaker’s boxes in the flooded Yuma Streets. Their makeshift wooden sailboats made headlines across the state of Arizona.
Visit historical Yuma at: www.visityuma.com