There is a special pain when it comes to old friends.
Over the past 48 hours, I’ve watched the Susquehanna River swell and wipe away homes. Businesses. Places I’ve been – a lot. Family photos. Laptop computers. Cars. Swing sets. All gone in just a matter of hours.
When I was growing up, my great-grandparents often told me stories about Agnes. They showed me pictures of the family in rowboats, navigating to dry land. They looked through water-stained photo albums with me. They told me about the mess, the mud, and the smell. My mother even remembers the smell of the river mud, caking the streets and forcing the family to relocate to Scranton in the aftermath.
It was an event that was truly terrible and today, it’s deja vu for Agnes survivors. The river has torn through neighborhoods in Towanda, Tunkhannock, Nanticoke, Plymouth, Edwardsville, Wilkes-Barre, West Pittston, and Forty-Fort – to name a few. It broke records. It challenged the Wyoming Valley’s new levee system and so far, the levee has been putting up a good fight. We can only pray that it continues to hold. It eclipsed Agnes in many ways, which I never thought I would see in my lifetime. Agnes seemed untouchable, like an ancient disaster that only happens every thousand years or so.
I’m young, but I’ve lived through several major floods in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The one I most vividly remember, besides this one, was the flood in the summer of 2006. It was the week of my stepbrother’s graduation party. It rained. Really rained. My car filled with water (it leaked all the time) and smelled like a stale kiddie pool. The ground turned to mush. The road in front of the Huntsville Dam crumbled and for months, I couldn’t drive that way to work anymore. It was scary, but after it ended, it was easy to forget. This time it’s different.
The Susquehanna River scared me in a way that I’ve never been frightened before. I listened to emergency scanners. I watched live feeds and opened just about every photo that came across my Facebook stream. I watched videos of the gushing water. I frantically changed stations on my drive home from work to catch any update I could. I emailed, texted, and called loved ones to see if everyone was alright (thankfully, everyone is). I watched, in both awe and horror, as entire towns were swallowed up by the brown. That sickly, milky brown water that stained my great-grandparents photos and left generations with stories to tell.
Oh, it is nothing compared to Agnes.”
Decades from now, I have to wonder if people will talk about Lee the same way they do Agnes. Or maybe they’ll forget about it, like the short memory I seem to have with the flood of 2006. I guess your perspective changes as you get older. Most of the floods I’ve lived through happened when I was in high school or younger. Now that I’m an adult (sort-of), there’s a unique fear that comes along with natural disasters. You tend to think of things you didn’t when you were 16. I’m still undecided on whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
A few weeks ago, I drove home at night with the windows down. I crossed the Market Street bridge and could smell the familiar dampness of the Susquehanna. I breathed in and as I pulled up to a stoplight, I listened to the quiet motion of the water and the faint hum of insects along its banks. I had driven this route hundreds of times when I first got my driver’s license. It was comforting. Like an old friend.
Sadly, tonight, I don’t feel the same way. But I hope that one day, I can again.
What You Can Do
More than 100,000 people have been affected by the flooding in Northeastern and Central PA, as well as the Southern Tier of NY. Please spread the word about these ways to help others.
Rumor Control Hotline: Residents of Luzerne County, if you have questions about what’s happening, please call 1-800-821-3716.
The American Red Cross: Aid the relief effort by texting RED CROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. You can also try calling 570-823-7161 or to donate funds, or visit http://wyomingvalley.redcr
Cooperation: For the love of God, if someone tells you to get the hell off the dike, do it. Cooperation with the National Guard, emergency personnel, and other officials is essential. No excuses, no rubbernecking. Keep us all safe by following all directives given in regards to evacuations, public safety, curfews, etc.
P.S. – Be thankful to our emergency personnel, as well as the men and women who have volunteered with sandbagging, cleanup, and disaster relief. Their jobs are only just beginning.
Greater Wilkes-Barre Recovery Center: Businesses affected by the flood waters should register: http://gwbrecovery.org/
Evacuation Shelters: There are evacuation shelters set up throughout the area. Contact your local shelter to see what they need. Donating your time and assistance is greatly appreciated. There’s Misericordia University, G.A.R. High School, Dallas Middle School, State Street School in Larksville, West Side Vo-Tech, Pittston Area High School, and Luzerne County Community College, to name a few. Both the rumor control hotline and Red Cross can direct you toward the nearest shelter.
Information: Not knowing what’s going on is dangerous and it’s far to easy to cause panic with speculation. One of the best ways to help yourself, and others, is to get the facts. Local media outlets such as The Times Leader, The Citizen’s Voice, WBRE, and WNEP have been providing extensive coverage. Visit their websites for up-to-date information on road closings, evacuation efforts, river levels, and other information.
Donate: When things have settled, there will be a multitude of efforts organized throughout our community to help those who have lost their homes, businesses, and personal belongings. Prepare to donate money, time, personal care items, diapers, clothing, food, library books, and other essentials. Facebook, local media outlets, and word of mouth will keep you posted on the efforts in your community.
- Days of rain trigger widespread Northeast floods – The Associated Press (news.google.com)