Buffalo was visited last night by one of the most violent electric storms that has ever passed over this section. Rain fell in torrents, the wind blew with almost hurricane force, lightning flashed across the heavens, striking terror in the hearts of the timid, and thunder pealed until it seemed as if the clouds would burst and fall into the streets.
Many people were out when the storm began to rage. They ran for shelter as soon as the rain fell. Gutters were filled to overflowing, cellars were flooded, lights went out, poles and buildings were struck by lightning, fire signals were tied up, cars and boats were delayed, and there was general confusion and damage.
The storm put the Exposition out of business and put a damper on everything else while it lasted. People had warning of its approach in the black clouds and bursts of lightning which preceded the downpour of rain. It was at its height from 8 until 9 o'clock, and the fall of rain was phenomenal for this time of year.
Fortunately few, if any, people were injured. Mrs. Ben Zazitz, wife of a driver of a stage which runs from Crystal Beach to Ridgeway, was struck by a bolt of lightning at Ridgeway and received a severe electrical shock and burns. Dr. Snyder of Ridgeway attended her. Her condition is said to be critical.
Mrs. Elizabeth Osman's home at 135 Vermont street was struck by a bolt of lightening about 9 o'clock. The bolt landed near a chimney, penetrated the roof, raced down the wall inside and ignited a couch on which Mrs. Osman had been lying a few moments before. Members of the family put out the blaze. Mrs. Osman and her daughter were both in the room in which the couch was at the time it was set afire. They were temporarily blinded by the lightning, but suffered no serious injury.
At the Exposition
If it had not been a good-natured crowd that was gathered in the Pan-American grounds last night when the storm was raging the Recording Angel would have given up his job in despair. But instead of complaining or shrieks or even the customary dip into some form of profanity the visiting thousands met the inevitable with good grace, and whiled away the time in a manner that none of the victims of disappointment will ever forget.
The Temple of Music was completely filled by the audience waiting to see the portraits of Shakespeare by stereopticon in the hands of Thomas W. Churchill, and to hear the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Charles R. Skinner, in an address, when the storm burst in the grounds and all the lights went out. The organist was equal to the occasion, and during the long interval of waiting for a release from the grip of the elements all sorts of popular airs were played, and the immense but undismayed crowd joined in singing pretty much the whole round of old and new from the latest coon, or ragtime, to the finest sacred melodies. The wonder of it was that the chorus was about as strong on one style as another. And after each song there was a great round of cheers to answer the fearful roll of thunder outside that was as incessant as music on the traditional boarding house piano.
There was occasion for wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Temple of Music because the crowd could see the Manufacturers Building brilliantly lighted all through the racket. At the Women's Building there was another throng trying to hold a reception after about 9:30 o'clock, when it was found impossible to do anything in the New York State Building, or even to approach it without swimming for it. The lights were on in the Women's Building all the time, but the masses were not invited in, for it was seen that if any teachers reception was to be held at all, it must be in that place, and it was kept fit for that purpose. The piazzas of that building were thronged when the flag staff was struck by a bolt that affected everyone and seemed, for an instant, to be the end of earthly things, but the next moment the shot from the heavens was cheered for its accuracy.
Power Cables Struck
The street car company did its best to get the multitudes back to town, but it was a hard task, for the wire cable transmitting power was struck half a dozen times, and it took hours to make the distance usually done in 20 minutes. Elsewhere in the city some damage was done by water, but no person was struck and the property loss was comparatively slight. The sewers were unable to carry off a rainfall of 1.18 inches an hour, though the figure gives but a faint idea of the mass of liquid that fell in that space of time. Lights were out in the Teck Theater. The Tifft House House gutters managed to send a flood into the Lafayette Theater, and the water was on a level with the lobby floor at the Iroquois. In Exchange street the flood was several feet deep in the cellars. Up at Connecticut and Sixteenth the water was a yard deep, and the boys had a good time rafting with the sidewalks afloat. Pinkel brothers, at that point, suffered considerable damage from a flooded cellar. Others in the same neighborhood met with smaller losses.
The city lights were out and the telephone lines were disabled while the wires of the fire department went out of use at the height of the disturbance. The Buffalo General Electric Company reports that its wires were not interfered with, and the Cataract Company found its break below Tonawanda. By midnight all the electric service in the city was in fair working order again, a remarkable record under the circumstances.
South Buffalo Escaped
South Buffalo was not in the path of the storm and caught but a little of its force. It was long after the floods were descending elsewhere before rain fell there and then the fall was not that great. East Buffalo got its share of what happened to the West Side.
Strangely enough the fury of the storm was spent over the Exposition grounds, as all accounts agree, and yet no buildings were damaged beyond leakages, and the walks drained off so quickly that with few exceptions they were passable in a few minutes after rained ceased falling at its wildest rate. Lights could not be kept on in the Esplanade, since the lightning arrestors were burned out as fast as they could be put in place and the electricians gave up trying to keep pace with the bolts out of the skies.
Apart from its features of inconvenience the storm was one of scenic qualities that were incomparable in their power. The thunder crash followed almost instantly on the movement of the lightening, showing how close the storm was to the earth, and many of the bolts could be felt distinctly, some to a marked degree. The volume of sound out of the sky was so loud and constant that conversation was more difficult than in a boiler shop. There was nothing to do but watch, sing and pray, if one felt like it, and hope that one more escape from passage in the chariot might be recorded, as it was.
Exposition in Gloom
The thunderstorm stuck the Exposition a few minutes before eight o’clock, at which hour thousands of people were making their way to the Court of Fountains and the Esplanade. The throng about the East Esplanade bandstand scattered when the first big drops fell, and the concerts were at once "all off," for the people made for the buildings to get under cover.
Many who cared less about getting wet remained outside to see the illumination, but there was none, except the grand display of electricity which was part of a storm which seemed terrific, yet grand, as it swept over the Pan-American. The big buildings were quickly filled, and in them the people stayed until 8:40 o’clock, when the heavy fall of rain eased up, and then they ventured out to get either to other buildings or to the street railway stations.
For a few minutes the rain ceased to fall, then there were slight showers at frequent intervals, and at 10 o’clock there was a heavy shower which continued for about five minutes, just long enough to soak the crowds which were leaving the grounds, wet and weary.
With all the light on the buildings out, with only glimmering arc lights burning throughout the grounds, with the incandescent lamps in some of the smaller buildings, the scene in the grounds was weird, yet it was one in which the venturesome, those who revel in a storm and in the fun which follows it, especially at an Exposition, find a great deal to see and a great deal of fun. Considering the heavy rainfall the damage, so far as could be ascertained at 10:30 o’clock, was comparatively slight, much less than might naturally be anticipated, so severe was the force of the rainfall and so great its volume.
In the Electric Tower
A big crowd if people were in the Electric Tower when the storm came. The car conductors called to them to get in the cars, but they seemed fascinated with the rising storm and kept their stand on the balconies overlooking the Esplanade. With great difficulty they were persuaded to go down to the lower story. By this time the rain was falling, and there was no leaving the place. So they remained until the first lull and then many ran out through the water or took chairs to the gates.
Outside the gates there was great confusion. The street cars were waiting as usual at the stations near the West Amherst gate. Some who left the grounds found seats in the cars, but they were soon filled and a crowd quickly gathered under the terminal sheds. As soon as the storm came the trolley refused to work, and the crowded cars stood there idle with a water-soaked crowd wedged in tight outside.
Many men and women who tried to make their way through the water had taken off their shoes and stockings and, with trousers and dresses tucked up to the knees they waded across the Esplanade. Others climbed into chairs two deep and hurried to the gates.
The lights on the Tower were ready to be turn on by 10 o’clock, but the signal was not given, and for the first time since the Fair opened the magnificent Esplanade slept in darkness.
Midway Became a River
The Midway was taxed to its utmost capacity with a moving crowd of sightseers when the terrific downpour of rain put in an appearance. In less than five minutes every spieler, sightseer and band on the entire Midway had disappeared from view and that thoroughfare immediately developed into a deserted city.
In the lowest section of the Midway the rain fell in torrents for fully an hour and by 9 o’clock there was enough water in the center of the street to sail a small craft. In front of a number of the Midway attractions the ballyhoo stands were found floating about and a number of small boys furnished not a little excitement for those who were forced to stand beneath the large archways in keeping beyond the reach of the driving rain by standing upon them while they were in motion and using them for boats.
By 9 o’clock every arc light in the Midway was turned off for some unknown cause, leaving it in a state of darkness for fully half an hour. This act caused much dissatisfaction among those who were picking their way toward the turnstiles in hopes of getting trolley cars, as it was an impossibility to see more than three feet ahead.
Long before the unusual closing time of the different attractions, shows for the evening were declared off and by 10 o’clock things were at a standstill all over the grounds.
Stadium Was Flooded
The Stadium was flooded, the inner field covered with water. The track seemed to have stood the flooding well and did not appear to have been washed out to any extent.
Down at the Government Building the ordnance exhibit was a dreary looking one at 9 o’clock. Water was standing three or more inches deep about the big guns and all the walks and asphalt roads were flooded so as to be almost impassable, except by those wearing high-water trousers. The bunk-room of the soldiers on guard at the building was flooded out, the water being several inches deep on the floor and the bunks drenched. Chairs, tables and other things were floating about, and the artillerymen were wading about trying to capture them. The roof of the Government Building having been repaired, none of the exhibits, it was reported, was damaged.
The group of State and foreign buildings was dark with the exception of the Ohio and Honduras structures which have acetylene gas plants. The two buildings were refuges for hundreds of people who were caught in the storm, being the ones to which the visitors could find the way.
Every source of power for the Exposition was stopped. It was stopped, not by the lightening, as has been the case in other storms. Previously, the lights were put out by the burning of a wire between the big rheostat in Elmwood avenue and the power plant at the Falls. But last night this circuit was all right. As far as could be learned by Engineer Rustin all was well with the wires to Niagara Falls. The trouble was inside the grounds, and it was caused by water.
Service Plant Flooded
One of the sources of power is the service plant in the pit under the Machinery and Transportation Building. Here there are several engines producing 2,000 horse-power. These furnish power for their share of the Exposition circuits. The engines rest on the ground below the surface of the street. Large fly wheels carry belts in and out of the pits which sink still further below the surface. These flywheel pits are connected with the sewers and all water gathering there is supposed to run off as soon as it accumulates up to a certain level. The sewers were utterly inadequate to carry off the water that emptied into the pits. In a moment the floor of the engine room was afloat and the pits were half full of water. The big belts sunk into the water and out again for a few revolutions of the fly wheels and then the engineers cut off the steam and stopped them. Belts are not made to run in water. Glue is an element in their composition, and the great leather slabs that formed them were soon loosened and curling up helpless on the floor beside the engines. Thus disabled the engines must stand until the belts can be repaired. All the circuits fed by these engines ran no electricity and the building usually lighted by them were in darkness.
The big power house north of the Exposition where the bulk of the load is hauled was in as bad a plight. Here the rheostats beside the engines, all on floors above the level were soon soaked with water and the engines had to be stopped to save the building from destruction. Ordinary wires carry the electricity to and from the rheostats, and the water rendered the wires useless. So the circuits fed by this power were useless and the buildings dependent upon them for light had none.
Six Inches of Water on Mall
The Mall from the West to the East Amherst gate was flooded, and in some places the water was from four to at least six inches deep. In front of the Electricity and the Agriculture, the Machinery and the Manufacturers' buildings the water was so deep that one walking through it got wet almost to the knees. It was wading in earnest to get from one of the four big buildings to another. There were many laughable scenes. The crowds after waiting for the storm to cease, of course tried to get out to the gates. Men carried women in their arms from one building to another and the roller chairs were in demand and did a big business. The chairboys took off shoes and stockings and worked with a will for a half hour and they got more than one half dollar for the trip from the vicinity of the Court of the Fountains to the Mall gates.
The sunken gardens in the Mall, as well as those at the Plaza, were flooded, each having fully a half foot of water. Several of the exhibits in the Bazaar building suffered severely from water which came through the roof. One booth full of stationery was thoroughly wet down and another in which is a valuable collection of Oriental goods was drenched before all of the stock could be removed or covered. In the Electricity building there were several bad leaks, but none of the exhibits suffered any damage of moment. The telephone exchange in the Electricity building was practically put out of business. Water leaked through the roof and drenched the relay room which, of course, knocked out the system practically, as comparatively few of the lines would work….
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