In 1889, New York Life was there for survivors of the great Johnstown flood.

New York Life | May 20, 2020

Johnstown flood

On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam of the Little Conemaugh River failed, sending 20 million tons of water gushing toward the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. More than 2,200 people died and 1,600 homes were lost in the disaster, which caused $17 million ($476 million in today’s dollars) in property damage.

Roughly 75 policy owners lived in the Johnstown area at the time, 15 of whom died in the flood.

Given the scope of the destruction, New York Life dispatched a special agent, Charles Langmuir, to help process claims for the beneficiaries of the policy owners lost to the flood. Within 24 hours, the agent located all those who had claims, and the company quickly paid death benefits totaling $43,600. (nearly $300,000 today)

A second flood

Unfortunately, that infamous flood wouldn’t be the last to strike Johnstown. Nearly a century later, on July 20, 1977, another dam failure caused flooding that left hundreds of people homeless, thousands injured, and $350 million in damages (about $1.5 billion today). And New York Life was there to help again, in ways both large and small.

As the water raged, New York Life training supervisor Harry Morrow, who lived in a small second-floor apartment in Johnstown, opened his door to 15 stranded neighbors. The group safely rode out the event, watching cars float away in the parking lot below.

In the aftermath of the flood, New York Life showed Johnstown the same commitment in 1977 as it had in 1889. Company officials flew to Johnstown to administer policies, helping clients get policy loans* and offer grace periods to those with lapsed policies.

The Johnstown floods are just two examples from New York Life’s 177-year history of how the company responds to disasters, including the one we are experiencing today. Then and now, taking care of our policy owners and the ones they love in the most difficult times is our driving priority.

*Policy loans accrue interest and reduce death benefit and available cash surrender value.


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Media contact

Kevin Maher
New York Life Insurance Company
(212) 576-7937