Survivors recall horror of flu pandemic

BRETT ZONGKER, Associated Press

CHEVY CHASE, Md. – At the height of the flu pandemic in 1918, William H. Sardo Jr. remembers the pine caskets stacked in the living room of his family’s house, a funeral home in Washington, D.C.

The city had slowed to a near halt. Schools were closed. Church services were banned. The federal government limited its hours of operation. People were dying – some who took ill in the morning were dead by night.

“That’s how quickly it happened,” said Sardo, 94, who lives in an assisted living facility just outside the nation’s capital. “They disappeared from the face of the earth.”…

He remembers little of his illness but recalls that his mother was terrified.

“They kept me well separated from everybody,” said Sardo, who lived with his parents, two brothers and three other family members. His family quarantined him in the bedroom he had shared with his brother. Everyone in the family wore masks.

The city began shutting down. The federal government staggered its hours to limit crowding on the streets and on streetcars. Commissioners overseeing the district closed schools in early October, along with playgrounds, theaters, vaudeville houses and “all places of amusement.” Dances and other social gatherings were banned.

The commissioners asked clergy to cancel church services… People who were known to be infected were threatened with a $50 fine if they were seen in public. Sardo remembers people throwing buckets of water with disinfectant on their sidewalks to wash away germs from people spitting on the street…. As the death toll started to mount, there was a shortage of coffins.

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