At first, many people didn't even see the water for all it was plowing before it. The estimated 37-foot-high torrent that exploded into Johnstown on the afternoon of May 31, 1889, had carried away so much in its 14-mile rampage down the Little Conemaugh River valley that one survivor recalled it as a "dark mass in which seethed houses, freight cars, trees, and animals." In minutes, the entire contents of a man-made lake surged through this Cambria County industrial city, situated deep in a valley within the Laurel Highlands. Some 2,209 people were crushed, drowned or incinerated after the debris caught fire. Thousands became homeless. Johnstown became an epicenter of disaster relief and telegraph-era news coverage -- and a byword for the Gilded Age's class struggle.