Syracuse Herald-Journal, November 26, 1943
Shortly after 3 a.m. the family of Attelio Vanetti, 528 State Fair Boulevard, was awakened by a heavy, dull thud. Looking from the windows, Mr. Vanetti saw a sticky mass had engulfed the lower floor of his home and that the six adults and five children in the house were marooned.
An air depot guard was returning from a tour of his post near the [State Fair] Coliseum when he saw his station house floating toward him on the approaching wall of white waste. He turned to run, but slipped and fell, losing his false teeth and revolver. Leaving both, he got up and ran from the oncoming waste which formed a moving billow more than eight feet high, he said.
Other guards escaped from the flood and summoned aid. Sheriff Robert G. Wasmer, first civilian official to reach the scene, called out all available deputies, state police, Solvay police and fire departments, along with Red Cross, telephone company and Solvay Process Company crews and others who aided in the rescue.
The 11 members of the Vanetti family were rescued by Fred Hulgert, chief of the auxiliary military police, who reached them by rowboat which was towed out by cable lines attached to a winch.
Telephone company employees, traveling along cables from pole to pole, got ropes to other residents stranded in boats and they were towed to safety. More than 20 persons escaped from the State Fair Hotel to dry land by boat, said owner Mrs. Mary Ribik.
Mrs. Ribik’s daughter, Mrs. Robert J. Miller and her infant daughter, were rowed to safety. She said she was awakened shortly after 3 a.m. by “a loud, gurgling sound,” and looked down her cellar stairs to see the basement filling with waste.
North of the Miller home is the Vanetti home, directly in the path of the flood. In this home were Mrs. Antoinette Vanetti, Attelio Vanetti, and their daughter, Camille, 10; Mrs. Adeline Vanetti, her five-year-old daughter, Marguerite, and her mother-in-law, Margeth Ania. Living on the second floor were Mrs. Mary and Mrs. Remo Vanetti and Mrs. Mary Vanetti’s children: Joan, 10; Angelo, 5, and Rose Ann, 3.
In the next home lived Mr. and Mrs. Boleslaw Pienkowski and their five children: Helen, 18; Edmund, 17; Walter, 16, and nine-year-old twins, Billy and Casimir.
The Pienkowskis, with the aid of SPCA attendants and neighbors, were able to save a young bull, a cow, a pig and a dog from their livestock, but a pig and several hundred chickens, geese and ducks, belonging to them, were sucked under the flood.
The latter two homes suffered the brunt of the flood’s onslaught, being covered above the first story windows. The garage of the Vanetti home was telescoped and flattened against the main structure by the force of the flow.
A vacant house, next north above Pienkowski’s, was inundated. Fred Steingraber and his mother lived in the next house and William Blickley lived alone in the next home, while two families lived in the seventh house actually within the “lava” area.
Mr. and Mrs. Alonzo Susco and their son, Arthur, lived downstairs and were rowed to dry land by members of the Solvay fire department after they had sought safety upstairs in the apartment occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Lent.
Several automobiles parked in the driveways of these homes and several score more, parked near the 4-H building on the State Fairgrounds, were mired to the window sills in the white mush.
AS IT SWEPT ON from its break in the dike, the sticky torrent picked up one automobile on the fairgrounds, belonging to a depot employee, and carried it more than 1,000 feet from where it had been parked. A guard’s shanty was transported 50 yards across a roadway into a mass of metal drums of fuel which toppled from their neat, pyramided piles to lay strewn across a large area.
When it reached the stone retaining wall around the [State Fair] race track, the flood was diverted to the north and west, but not until after it had filled the underpass with an adhesive mass.
Because of its slightly higher elevation, the roadbed of the D. L. & W. Oswego line was cleared shortly after noon yesterday by a locomotive pushing a mass of wooded cross-ties ahead of it, which, in turn, shoved the soupy mass to either side, leaving the top of the rails barely visible after each trip.
A large train crew, armed with shovels, worked steadily to keep the right of way clear as the slimy ooze crept back across the tracks.
Hundreds of workers and dozens of plows, scrapers, bulldozers, carry-alls, trucks and tractors from the state, county and city public works departments worked at the seemingly hopeless task of clearing the roadway which may be blocked to traffic for many days.
More than 100 truckloads of cinders were dumped on the roadway during the night to give the waste enough consistency to be shoveled or pushed aside permanently.
This method was finally abandoned last night in favor of dissolving the semi-liquid waste with more water and pumping the solution away.
Solvay Process Company crews last night began this procedure at the northern rim of the flooded area near the second [State Fairgrounds] gate. While a small pump was placed in operation near the roadside and gradual headway was made in draining off some of the mass, workmen were testing the dike walls north of the break to determine if they would be strong enough to stand additional pressure should it be decided to pump the runaway waste back over the 50-foot wall.
BY LATE YESTERDAY afternoon the waste had spread out over an area of nearly two square miles and had settled down, leaving white "high-water marks” on trees and light poles as high as eight feet directly opposite the break, but dropping to less than one foot on the trees near each end of the flow’s width.
In addition to the task at hand yesterday afternoon, additional details of sheriffs were required to handle an almost constant stream of traffic coming out State Fair Boulevard as thousands of curious motorists drove to the scene.
These mingled with shifts changing at both the Halcomb Steel plant and the air storage depot gave the main gate the appearance of Governor’s Day at the Fair in prewar days.
Finally, as the word spread through the community, more and more motorists lined the highways to the Fairground last night, but only those with official business at the grounds or the steel plant were allowed past guards station at Milton Avenue in Solvay and at the foot of Willis Avenue and State Fair Boulevard.
Clothing was obtained for evacuees and food was provided at a canteen set up by Frank M. Shattuck, who was called to provide meals for stricken families and workers.
The Solvay plant, engaged in the manufacture of soda ash and many by-products which enter into production of many war materials, including explosives, stayed in full production yesterday, with waste being pumped out at the normal rate, but diverted to another sludge bed.
The Halcomb plant was not affected by the deluge which reached only one of the steel company’s northernmost parking lots, miring one worker’s car.
The Army Air Force’s storage depot at the Fairgrounds was humming along as usual since access to the main gate had not been blocked. White spattered Army trucks entered and left the affected area of the grounds all day, transporting material from the flooded buildings which include the Coliseum, the Waldorf building and several neighboring structures now used for storage of war material.
Solvay Waste Storage Opposed 50 Years Ago
Considerable opposition to the use of lands adjoining Onondaga Lake for waste from the Solvay Process Company’s plant arose when the firm began operations here more than 50 years ago.
Col. Joseph Bondy of 2035 East Genesee Street and Frank Hopkins who practiced law under the firm name of Hopkins & Bondy fought the use of these lands for their client, John D. Ryan, and Col. Bondy predicted then, to Frederick R. Hazard, president of the company, that some day the pressure of the waste would break the dikes and overflow.
The company wanted to acquire Mr. Ryan’s land between the plant and the lake and Ryan did not want to sell, Col. Bondy recalled today. He fought against this sale and also, as member of [the State] Assembly, opposed a bill to give the Solvay Process Company the right to condemn lands for waste disposal.
“I raised the objection then that the refuse might seep through and poison wells,” Col Bondy said today. “I also predicted that in the far future, and this as more than 50 years ago, the mass might become so great that it would break through. Solvay Process officers said I was crazy and that the outer layer hardened.
“I contended also that it would poison white fish and other fish in the [Onondaga] lake and it did. I was one of the original incorporators of the Onondaga Yacht Club and was commodore then and I opposed use of the lands for waste as best I could.
“I talked with Mr. Hazard and with J. William Smith of the company, with Patrick Haynes and P J. Cody. I told Mr. Hazard the waste would create a general nuisance. Later he tried to get legislation to do certain things, including, I think, the right to condemn, and I fought that and my opposition forced me out of politics. I didn’t go back to the legislature after that opposition.”