Quarantined


When the Ohio River receded, residents of the West End of Louisville were not immediately allowed to return to their homes. An absolute quarantine was ordered on Saturday, January 30, 1937, and, before anyone could return, all buildings, utilities, and means of waste removal had to be inspected and approved for use.

The quarantined area was bound by the Ohio River to the north and west, 18th Street to the east, and Algonquin Parkway to the south. U.S. soldiers were stationed along the boundaries with rifles and bayonets, while city police patrolled the zone.

Permits were required to enter the West End, with stations established nearby to obtain one. The lines were long, and most citizens were turned away without a permit, as only those with urgent business were allowed through.

On Tuesday, two square miles of the West End opened for occupancy. Twice that day, Mayor Neville Miller broadcast health and safety regulations over the radio -- a long list that included the need to boil all water and the importance of testing the soundness of ceilings with a pole. Trucks with public address systems drove throughout the entire West End, announcing the rules to residents who had stayed in their homes for the duration of the flood.

By Friday, all restrictions were lifted, and thousands returned home to survey the damage. Authorities recommended the complete drying out of homes, aided by the burning of fireplaces and the opening of windows despite the cold. Wallpaper had to be stripped, and furnishings and mattresses taken outside into the fresh air and sunshine. Every surface needed to be scrubbed clean of the mud left behind by the floodwater. Wood floors were scrubbed then left to dry in hopes that the buckled boards would lie flat again.

Food and medical supplies had to be thrown out. Of all the submerged foodstuffs, only canned goods were safe to use, and most cans no longer had an identifying label. Food would remain scarce until local grocery stores were up and running.

Despite the hard work and hardship ahead of them, residents of the West End were anxious to return home, take stock of the damage, and do whatever it took to restore their lives to the ones they knew before the flood.


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