Ira North and his neighbors heard a cracking sound coming from the earthen dam that held in a 75-acre lake. Then, with the roar of a jet engine, the water broke loose, swamping homes, washing away cars and sweeping a rescue worker to his death.
As dawn broke Friday, residents found carp flopping in a smelly, muddy mire where their back yards and a lovely expanse of blue had been a day earlier.
North used to live at the end of a pretty, manmade lake where largemouth bass were plentiful and power boats were banned. But when the dam built in 1926 broke, the lake went with it, ripping out trees and tossing boats and docks and a child’s blue plastic slide in a muddy jumble.
“It drained so quick, we couldn’t believe it. It was like somebody took the stopper out of a bathtub - Whoosh!” North said.
Heavy rains in the leafy Timberlake neighborhood - 8 inches since Wednesday night - had pushed the lake waters halfway up North’s steeply sloped lawn, nearly submerging his boathouse and carrying off a picnic table.
He and a neighbor watched the water rise for a while Thursday night, then went back inside about 10:30 p.m. Moments later, the dam failed.
Lightning illuminated a terrifying scene. In place of the dam was a deep slash of powerful water - a river where none had been before. The road on top of the dam was gone.
A mile down Buffalo Creek, the water tore into a four-lane bridge that was already submerged under 3 to 4 feet of water, crumpling steel guardrails like accordions, snapping a telephone pole in half and ripping off huge slabs of asphalt and concrete.
Carter Martin, 41, of the Brookville-Timberlake Volunteer Fire Department, drowned while checking inside a flooded car on the bridge. He was harnessed in a safety belt and rope when the water surged and he was swept off the bridge.