'72 Déjà vu : September flooding in Tunkhannock Part 1

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rt. 92 South of Tunkhannock. Sept. 8th, 2011.
Thursday morning, I woke up to the constant sound of rain against pavement. The same white noise I had fallen asleep to. On Wednesday, people were talking about flooding. Serious flooding. Irene had just slipped through causing damage all over NYC, New Jersey and portions of Eastern Pennsylvania. A few small towns around me had been severely flooded by their small streams.

With the ground saturated and the skies pouring oceans of water over northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York, we began to see the streams and creeks, something Pennsylvania has an abundance of, rise and spill into each other until finally feeding into the Susquehanna. The way things were shaping up in the storm system and the rapid rising of the waters, it was beginning to look serious. Hushed whispers of a tragedy not seen since 1972 filled the voices of many.

While my coffee brewed, I watched the news outline what was happening. Binghamton, NY had received ten inches of rain in approximately two days. A fact that was repeated over and over by meteorologists on the local news. Three months of rain in such a short time. Towns upstream from Tunkhannock like Meshoppen, Towanda and Wyalusing were already experiencing major flooding.

I called my boss to find out what was happening in town. He and other employees were moving equipment from the shop to higher ground. There was already a foot of water in the building. New comments began to saturate the news coverage: "Worse than Agnes." "Record crest for the Susquehanna." We were in for a disaster the likes of which I had only heard stories.

The Susquehanna swallows Tunkhannock.
When I finished my coffee, I decided I'd walk to town since all road travel was being discouraged. There were actually rumors of $500 fines for those caught driving. As I made my way down the road, I could hear the roaring of the Susquehanna over the hill. I had never heard it this loud in all of my years spent in Tunkhannock. There had been plenty of floods that I had lived through, but this was a new beast and the river roared.

The muddy water was already lapping the banks just over the edge of route 92 and, around the corner, as the road dipped down along the edge of the mountain, the river had already crawled up and over the pavement. There was no way I'd make it to town on foot.

My father and I decided that, since we were seemingly trapped between two flood plains, we'd hike Avery Mountain and look out over the valley from Hangman's, an area near the top of the mountain where hang-gliders launch. Hiking up, the waters spilled down across rocks and ledges, mixing into a slippery, muddy mess. Fog rolled through the trees thick and heavy and the humidity made our trip more difficult than it should have been.

As we reached the top, the picture below us was beyond anything I had ever seen. The river had swelled and spread across the valley, engulfing and swallowing everything within its path. Houses and buildings lay surrounded by its muddy waters and round-bales of hay, that once sat in fields undisturbed, began floating downstream.

Slowly, other people began to join us at the top of the mountain to watch as our town was inundated with the rising Susquehanna. While we all stood and watched, each of us remarking on the unfolding destruction, a woman spotted something floating down the river. It was large and moving fast. I heard someone ask, "Is that a house?"
A house floats down the Susquehanna.
Lifting my camera, I focused the lens and zoomed in, finding the object in the rushing water. There, floating along like a toy, two windows were visible. A sharp-angled, green roof. It was surreal, but it was happening right before my eyes. My father had told me stories about the flood of Agnes in 1972 when he and his friends stood on the old, metal bridge and watched as house after house floated down and splintered into nothing against the heavy steel girders.

People on the bridge watched as the house floated closer and closer to the river bridge, colliding into the side and splintering, almost exploding, into a floating pile of rubble. The sound was so intense that we could hear it at the top of the mountain. This was only the beginning.

Downtown Tunkhannock as the waters rose quickly.

Comments (1)

I don't think you ever forget flooding like that. When it rains years from now, you will look down the road and remember what it looked like under water.

The worst flooding I ever saw was in Tropical Storm Allison in Houston. It was a 500 year flood. I have seen some wild flash floods in Vegas, but nothing like that.

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