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The Flood of 1934 was a natural disaster that hit the town of Bridgeton, New Jersey in August 1934. Over the course of three days, heavy rains fell in the region, swelling Sunset Lake and other local interconnected waterways. At the time, there were two earthen dams holding the water back at Sunset Lake and Mary Elmer Lake. Eventually the pressure was too much and the dams gave way sending a torrent of water down the Cohansey River as well as tributaries connected to the Lakes. The wall of water surged down through the banks of the Cohansey, emptying the lakes and the Raceway and flowing into and through downtown Bridgeton, which straddles the river. All the bridges that connected the east and west sides of the town were destroyed. Also damaged was Tumbling Dam Park, where the dam that held the water of Sunset Lake was located.
In the aftermath of the flood, residents had no way of crossing the Cohansey River from one side of the town to the other. To go around the River meant a 21-mile (34 km) detour. The citizens were given short term relief when a Troop of Sea Scouts (associated with the Boy Scouts of America) used a donated lifeboat to set up a temporary ferry service by stringing a rope across the River and pulling the boat back and forth. Later, the United States Army Corps of Engineers came in and set up a temporary pontoon bridge. In the photographs taken at the time, the pontoon bridge appears to be very flimsy. In fact it was very stable, and one could drive a car across it.
Due to the surge of water during the flood, much debris was deposited in the Cohansey River, making navigation of the waterway dangerous. The city hired a hard-hat diver to help in the removal of the debris. This is where Art Mckee, the "Father of Underwater treasure hunting" got his start.
In the Bridgeton area, among the most remembered of our worst brushes with Mother Nature is undoubtedly the flood of 1934. At the time, showers had been predicted, but no one was prepared for the cloudburst that crippled Bridgeton and racked up more than $1 million in damage. (or over $17,000,000.00 in 2013)
Seven inches of rain fell within a four-hour time span, setting off a chain reaction of disasters. Lightning destroyed the Dividing Creek Town Hall. Thousands of dollars of stock was damaged in Laurel Street stores and two Bridgeton dams were washed away. Four 75-foot oyster schooners, torn from moorings, smashed into the Commerce Street Bridge, tearing it in half. The Broad Street Bridge sank three feet and was condemned. Flood waters battered the Bridgeton Water Works and stopped the pumps. This created a water shortage, causing Owens-Illinois Glass Co., Ritter, Laning, Pritchard, Martin Dye and other plants to shut down. More than 2,500 people were out of work.
About 60 U.S. Army engineers, called down from Fort Dix, helped build pontoon bridges to relieve the traffic congestion. They were assisted by 150 men taken from the unemployment roles by the Emergency Relief Administration. In the meantime, enterprising youngsters made more than $85 by rowing people across the river at 5 cents a trip. The nickel fare aboard the S.S. Ferry saved thousands of people a 21-mile detour by means of the nearest upstream route. By the late 1930s, a permanent bridge of cantilever construction had been built on Broad Street. It still serves travelers today.
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