When thinking of Washington D.C., the phrase ‘drain the swamp’ may come to mind. However, at one point the nation’s capital indeed needed to be drained. The home of the prominent White House, Senate, and other integral buildings were under threat of inundation from flooding, not partisan politics.

Treacherous waters back home

It seemed that Mother Nature was not on America’s side during October 1942. While most of the population was out fighting in the trenches during WWII, the Potomac River decided to make a surge of its own. Rising waters were overtaking the city and threatening to put a halt to daily operations.

Urban Turf

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was not one to pinch pennies to save the city. A combined effort of over 1,000 civilians and soldiers worked arm-in-arm to fill sandbags to create a barrier. Thanks to the swelling of the Potomac River, the Anacostia River overflowed as well.

Undeterred to stay afloat

Working feverishly, the efforts of both military and civilians managed to erect a 6-foot levee of sandbags within six hours. However, even the enlisted manpower was not enough to subdue the encroaching water. Bulldozers were lined up to carry on the fight and keep the wave at bay.


D.C. had managed to survive the flood of March 1936. But, the flood of October 1942 was bringing on the pain, via unending rain, not cash flow.

Still tempting fate

Due to the flood of October 1942, nearly 2,000 people lost their homes, some people perished, and the water lay contaminated and fetid. As the nation’s capital exists well below sea level, it still remains vulnerable despite passed laws to protect against flooding.

Potomac Patch

Surprisingly, there wasn’t any funding to improve the levees until 2014. Until the Army Corps of Engineers received a payout, the National Mall risked transforming into an island. Then again, if politicians were easy to agree on the allocation of funding for projects, it wouldn’t be Washington D.C.