Broken water main in downtown Seattle floods streets, swallows passersby on June 13, 1942.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 6/18/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3384
On June 13, 1942, a water main bursts in downtown Seattle, buckling pavement, flooding basements, and nearly causing several drownings. The burst occurs on 2nd Avenue, between Washington and Main streets. Some pedestrians are rescued after falling into the sinkhole that appears beneath their feet, but in the end no one is injured, just soaked.

That Saturday afternoon, the sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians, many of them shopping for various sundries on their day off. At 4:15 p.m., a 20-inch water main near the corner of 2nd Avenue and Washington Street shattered 5 feet below the surface, unleashing a flash flood which quickly undermined the street and sidewalk.

Snap Decision

Seattle Post-Intelligencer photographer Jeb Beaudin happened to be walking nearby with his camera, and immediately began snapping photos of pedestrians and cars dodging around the buckling pavement. Suddenly, as a piece of concrete gave way, two men directly in front of him disappeared into eight feet of water.

Beaudin set aside his camera, and helped pluck the two fellows out of the hole. He then resumed his pictorial coverage. By this time, other would-be rescuers had themselves fallen into the drink and were in danger of being sucked into now-flooded basements nearby. Fortunately, the crowd pulled them all out.

The Flood Recedes

Police and water department workers arrived and quickly got everything under control. Otto's Meat Market and a nearby tavern were evacuated, and onlookers were moved away from the vicinity to prevent any injuries. After a few minutes of hasty work, the flow of water was stanched. The Fire Department arrived, and within a few hours much of the water was pumped out of nearby basements, leaving the street thick with mud and silt.

As repairs were being made, another break occurred around the corner, but with the streets clear and workers nearby, a similar disaster was averted. In the end, nearly 12 feet of water main was broken by the burst and was soon replaced, and the entire area repaved.


Sources: "Downtown Street Flooded by Bursting Water Main," Seattle Post-Intelligencer June 14, 1942, p.1, 17; "Breaking Main's Roaring Flood Damages Street," The Seattle Times June 14, 1942, p.1, 8.

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