'72 Déjà vu : September flooding in Tunkhannock Part 3

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Friday, September 16, 2011

Tioga Street, downtown Tunkhannock.
Through the years, my love for the town where I've grown up and lived most of my life has grown with me. The subtle nuances and quiet, easy life has become a treasure when I search for peace and calm. Its history and age reveal gems through weathered buildings oozing with character and stories, the sprawling forests where maple, birch and evergreen trees mingle whispering amongst winds that roll over the soft undulations of the Endless mountain ridge lines. Some of my best memories were constructed amongst brooks and creeks that carve paths across the face of the land.

But now, the Susquehanna was carving a memory through me that would last until my final days like it did in '72 to my father and his sisters. My grandmother. All of those who have called Tunkhannock home their entire lives.

Down among the brick buildings of town, I could hear the rushing roar of the river as I walked east along Tioga Street. The water had come up to the main light, wrapping around the corner from Bridge Street into Tioga. The scent of diesel fuel was heavy in the air and a slick, rainbow sheen colored the surface of the muddy water.As I stood in front of the Prince Hotel, I looked across the street.


The Dietrich Theater seemed as though it were anchored to the sidewalk floating in the current of the river. Standing in the doorway of The Second Wind, a man sipped a beer behind sandbags protecting the entrance to the bar. It was all too surreal.

I made my way around to a back alley where I could see the True Value hardware store. The first floor was completely submerged beneath the river and its weathered white paint and the uneven lines of the roof  seemed like the aged, wrinkled face of an old man. On any normal day, the beaten soles of work boots would be walking along the warped floorboards shaped by every flood the town had ever lived through. Now, the river filled the aisles and burdened the ancient store once more.


The sun was beginning to fall low in the sky and exhaustion was taking over my body. By now, it would be too late to travel back along the narrow mountain path that had brought us into town safely. It would be a night of half-sleep on my mother's uncomfortable couch just outside of town.

Newswatch 16 glowed on for a few hours while I sat up watching images of surrounding downs along the river engulfed and swallowed like my own. Residents and officials in Wilkes-Barre waited nervously as the waters rose higher and higher up the levee walls that had been built to avoid another tragedy like '72. They had not been put to the test like this since being built. No one was absolutely positive of their strength and resiliency.


A video of the house I had seen crash into the river bridge looped over and over between aerial shots of West Pittston beneath water. The Bloomsburg fairgrounds. The river was cresting. The level gauges had stopped working hours ago. And I was falling asleep. When I awoke, the waters would be slowly receding and we'd all begin the process of returning to normalcy. The river would return to its banks. Mud would be washed from the streets but the memories would always remain coursing through our minds.

Part 1
Part 2

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