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Over the coast of California, the great storm formed May 26, 1889, and began from there a slow march across America toward Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where some 2,200 souls waited to die, unaware of the looming sweep of the scythe.

A town forged on steel and greed and populated by men and women of iron will, Johnstown sat then on the precipice of a descent into a hell the likes of which Dante could not have imagined. Mighty industrialists of the day set against them by way of callous disregard, but so, too, did nature.

Lee Wolverton is vice president of news of HD Media LLC and executive editor of The Herald-Dispatch. His email address is

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