JOHNSTOWN, PA. -- "We were playing in the kitchen," Elsie Frum recalled. "My father come in and yelled, 'Get out, the dam has broke!' We ran to a hillside and watched." Frum expects to celebrate her 107th birthday in September and what she saw was a flood like no other in the nation's history. She is one of about half a dozen living survivors of an event that traumatized this small city at the bottom of the Conemaugh River Valley 100 years ago Wednesday. The earthen dam was 14 miles upstream and, for 36 years, had contained Lake Conemaugh, more than two miles long and more than a mile wide. Swollen by snow and rain, it breached the dam in mid-afternoon. For about an hour, 20 million tons of water -- the amount that flows over Niagara Falls in 36 hours -- roared toward the city. Arriving as a 40-foot wall, the torrent took only 10 minutes to destroy 1,600 homes, 280 businesses and leave one of every 15 residents dead. The water struck with such force that it splashed off mountains on the other side of the city and washed back. Bodies were found more than 100 miles away in Ohio, and more than 700 corpses were never claimed. They lie in a common plot at Grandview Cemetery here. More than 100 events have been scheduled in this western Pennsylvania city to commemorate the disaster, in which 2,209 people died. This evening, one youth is to represent each victim in lighting tapers from a burning steel ingot. Perhaps the most solemn event scheduled, the service is to include 100 local clergy in full vestments, a choir of 300 and a heavy dose of symbolism. The young people, aged 13 to 20, represent the city's future. The steel ingot, brought directly from one of two surviving steel plants, represents the present and, to a larger extent, the past. The destruction here was caused more by negligence than nature. The man-made lake had been dammed to create an exclusive fishing and hunting club for wealthy Pittsburgh residents, including Andrew Mellon, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. The dam was known to be unsafe, but pleas to make it stronger were ignored. Frum remembers that, after the flood passed, her father turned his wood-planing factory into a mortuary. He washed bodies, laid them in pews of a nearby church and built their coffins. The corpses, she said, are her most vivid memory. "They scared me to death," she added. Frum moved to a hill after a second and far less damaging flood on St. Patrick's Day in 1936. She lives in Southmont Borough above Johnstown with her daughter, Evelyn Fondelier, 77, one of three children. She also has eight grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren. She is alert and in good health, except for some arthritic problems. Asked about her longevity, Frum laughed and said, "I really don't know why I'm still alive." Asked whether she eats anything special, she laughed again and said, "I eat everything I can get my hands on." She said she just turned down a request to appear with Johnny Carson on the "Tonight Show" because she did not want to fly to the West Coast. Johnstown, 70 miles east of Pittsburgh and 180 miles northwest of Washington, is surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains. It experienced two serious floods after 1889. In 1936, 25 people were killed and, 12 years ago, 80 died and $350 million in damage was reported. On the city hall building downtown are three plaques commemorating the major floods and showing the high-water marks, from a low of eight feet high for 1977 to a high of 21 feet for the Great Flood of 1889. In 1983, when the decline of the steel industry hit western Pennsylvania hardest, Johnstown led the nation in unemployment with a rate that topped 26 percent. Still predominantly a working-class town, it has a large population of second- and third-generation Eastern Europeans, 72 churches and many elderly residents. The most recent unemployment rate was 6.6 percent, high by state and national standards but a dramatic drop for Johnstown. Boosters say this happened because the local economy is more diverse and showing signs of growth in service and health-care jobs. Others here, however, say the drop at least partially reflects the fact that many former steel workers left the area while others no longer are counted because their unemployment benefits have lapsed. For now, this city of 35,000 is looking to cash in on its history of bad luck. Officials are planning to spend $10 million in hopes of attracting 1 million visitors this summer. The city hired Charles Guggenheim, an Academy Award winner, to make a film that recreates the flood and its aftermath. Its debut is scheduled Wednesday. MetaForm Inc., of New York, which is restoring Ellis Island in New York Harbor, has refurbished the Johnstown Flood Museum, ironically located in a library donated to the town by Carnegie after the flood. The National Park Service is opening a visitor center at the dam site. A New York public-relations firm is promoting events that include ethnic art festivals, concerts, a banquet for flood survivors, flood-related storytelling and lighting of a laser show that is to hover over the city all summer. The mixture of commemoration and celebration seems odd. "The Johnstown Flood Centennial Celebration" brochure that lists the events scheduled, for example, has a nighttime color photograph of Johnstown on the cover with fireworks exploding over the city. On the back panels, above an artist's rendering of the flood that shows people being swept to their deaths, it says, "Come for the history." Inside, above a listing of events, it says, "Stay for the fun." Richard Dill, who came here from New York three years ago to run the centennial effort, acknowledged that it is "a little kooky" to promote a town on the basis of a tragedy. But he also said the celebration could be "a catalyst" to rebuild the local economy. "There's more to Johnstown than floods and unemployment," Dill said. "This is a city that has survived. It's a community that's used to reacting with a shovel. It has had a hard time, some pretty negative national press. Now out of need, it's had to diversify." Dill said flood-related activities could bring $60 million to the local economy this year. The scheduled events include a live broadcast from the dam site Wednesday by weatherman Willard Scott on NBC's "Today" show, an appearance by the rock group Bon Jovi June 14 and a show by comedian Bob Hope July 3. Wednesday afternoon, a train whistle will blow at about the time the dam broke in 1889. Church bells and sirens will sound. Then, at 4:07 p.m., the time the flood hit the city, all traffic will stop for one minute of silence.