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Monday, June 18, 2012

Agnes + 40

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Tropical Storm Agnes-- the one that left huge parts of Pennsylvania under several feet of water.  Above, a photo of Wilkes-Barre's Public Square.  If you're unfamiliar with the area, south is to the left.  The Susquehanna River is just out of the frame, at the top of the photo.

Others will do a better job of noting the actual history and timeline, so I'll do a few paragraphs here on the experiences of a 10 year old who lived several miles from the flood plain.

I remember days of relentless rain, and when you're a kid, just out of school for the summer,  the rainy week seemed like an eternity.  The late afternoon before the Susquehanna River actually topped the levee sticks out in my mind.  I recall my mother and I listening to the radio.  I really didn't understand what was going on, so she explained it to me in terms a kid would understand-- it looked bad.  The Susquehanna was likely to flood the next day.  During a lull in the rain that evening, I hung with my friend Markie, who lived just down the street.  I told him what I learned, and it all seemed rather spooky.  It's that awful feeling that something horrible is going to happen, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it.

The other thing that really sticks in my mind is a ride through the Wyoming Valley, with my father, weeks after the water went down.  Houses were knocked off foundations and smashed.  Gas station tanks popped out of the ground.  Entire sections of street were missing.  You could see the high water mark on the second floor of some buildings, especially on the west side.  Dust was everywhere, and the smell was awful.  I've never forgotten it.

We talk a lot about the water, but we can't forget that big sections of Wilkes-Barre burned during the flood.

I was lucky.  I got to observe from a distance.