to Mr. Evarts.
Vienna , March 22, 1879. (Received April 8.)
Sir: The press of this and other countries has given such full details of the disaster at Szegedin, in Hungary, that it did not appear to mo necessary to send information on the subject to the Department. But the telegraph announces that in some American cities contributions are offered for the relief of the unhappy population of that town. It is possible, therefore, that inquiries may be made at the Department for more precise information. In that view I report the following facts:
Szegedin was a town of about 6,500 houses, and of about 60,000 inhabitants, of whom perhaps one-half belonged to families engaged as proprietors or farmers of neighboring lands, having homes in the town. The number of dwellings in the town has been variously stated; but I give this number on the authority of a member of the government. Of these buildings not more than two or three hundred were solidly built, or of much value. The great majority were small in size, and built of sun-dried clay, and situated on ground actually lower than the usual water-level of the sluggish river Theiss, against the overflow of which the city was defended by dikes. The value of the houses which furnished homes to the great majority of the population was, as I am informed by a Hungarian gentleman, who recently visited the place, from $75 to perhaps $300 each. The movables were of a proportionate value. A gentleman in the suite of the Emperor on the occasion of his visit to Szegedin estimates the loss at not less than 6,000,000 florins (about $3,000,000).
When the storm at high-water forced a passage for the collected floods through one of the dikes, it found nearly the whole population asleep in their usual abodes, and most of their movable property in its usual place. Means of rescue for the people had been provided by the government. But the rapidity and violence of the flood in the dead of night were almost equal to the promptitude and energy of the alarm. The streets were soon running with water, and the low houses filled rapidly. Few movables were saved. Many of the population escaped to the high ground or to the embankments, or took temporary refuge on the roofs of the houses. Most of those left in the houses were rescued by boats. Sometimes, however, the dried-clay walls of their dwellings, quickly saturated with the water, crumbled under them iii this night of storm and flood, while they were waiting for rescue. The best information so far obtained indicates a loss of not more than from 50 to 60 human lives. This number may be increased as the waters recede and disclose the ruins beneath.
The response to the demands for, relief has been prompt and generous, not only in Austria-Hungary, but in Germany, France, and England. The accumulation of supplies in the first few days was so rapid that the transmission was stopped by order, for want of room for deposit. The minister president of the Hungarian Government was able to declare, on his return from the scene of the flood, that the free contributions at home and abroad were so great that no assistance was required from the state. The surrounding villages and towns have hospitably afforded shelter to the refugees.
It is proposed to rebuild the town of other materials, chiefly brick. [Page 58] The region is almost destitute of stone. The dikes inclosing the town are to be increased in height and strength and completeness.
There is no apprehension of further suffering, beyond that arising from sickness induced by past exposures.
I have the honor, &c.,