WEST PITTSTON — The ice flooding of 2018 was a close call for hundreds of borough homes that line the 1.3 miles of shoreline along the Susquehanna River and several blocks inland. When the river levels rise, so does the anxiety of those who have experienced flooding of the past – in particular the flooding of Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.
It looked clear to officials that flooding was imminent on Wednesday, Jan. 24, especially along lower-lying ground in West Pittston. Luzerne Avenue heading south to the former West Pittston Armory was in particular danger of flooding.
West Pittston Borough Emergency Management coordinator Barry Hosier placed a call at 7:30 a.m. that day to borough president Ellen Quinn, informing her of rising water covering Susquehanna Avenue and inching up Delaware Avenue.
Quinn is a homeowner in the flood plain. She, too, had to evacuate but not before a moving company could take her possessions away.
“At that point, the chunks of ice on the riverbank, it was amazing, it was scary, and very ominous,” Quinn said. “I was scared for the people along the river and I was scared for the people along the lower end of Susquehanna Avenue.”
According to Quinn, the river inched and then fell back before rising one final time.
“West Pittston hadn’t experienced anything like this in a very long time, ice build up like this and flooding in the winter,” Quinn added, reporting winter flooding is very difficult to predict.
“How can you come back in the cold?” said an emotional Quinn, referring to a situation where homes could have been flooded with ice water and residents would have had to deal with frigid temperatures. That scenario could possibly take weeks to months before residents could return to their homes to begin cleaning and rebuilding.
Quinn commended former Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority Executive Director Jim Brozena for his knowledge of the river and his vigil during the critical 24-hour period of rising water.
“I have a new profound, deep respect for Jim Brozena,” Quinn said. “There was never a moment when you didn’t see Jim with a cell phone to his ear, talking to someone about West Pittston and what was going on.”
Anxiety levels rose for those in the flood plain as borough officials went door-to-door ordering a mandatory evacuation in the afternoon. Early predictions had river levels as high as the record 2011 flood. Another flood with numbers that matched Tropical Storm Lee in ‘11 would be a devastating blow to a town still seeing effects from event.
Susquehanna Avenue resident Charlene Maroni knows all too well what a flood could do to her home. Water levels reached as high as two inches from her first-floor ceiling in 2011.
“It was about 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday when I looked out my front window and saw the water near the shoreline flowing backwards,” Maroni said. “I remember seeing a video clip on the local news showing the flood water going backwards in Avoca. I turned to my husband and said, ‘This is not good.’”
Maroni and her husband John decided to grab everything they could, including the pets, some clothing and blankets before leaving their property while still wearing pajamas.
The Maronis monitored water levels during the day and, at one point, the river had receded so they decided to go back in the house and move as much furniture to the second floor as possible.
At the same time, recently retired physician Lauren Argenio began to take action. She, too, was a victim of the 2011 flood. With the help of friends, relatives and neighbors, she was able to get her belongings to the second floor.
“Tuesday morning, I was going over the Kridlo Bridge towards Pittston and, as I always do, I looked to my right and I was shocked,” Argenio said. “My jaw dropped and it started; I went from no anxiety, because I wasn’t thinking about it (flooding) to a 10 and immediately I got into my head about, is it going to flood, am I going to have to move my furniture, am I going to have to leave?”
Argenio had five feet of water in her home in 2011. With that scenario still fresh in her mind, she knew she had to act this time around.
When word came down around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday the ice jam had broken in Wilkes-Barre, it was matter of minutes before the flood warning was lifted. Water levels dropped three feet.
A very relieved Argenio did not suffer any water damage but the Maronis ended up with a few feet in their basement and, 10 days later, they are not yet back in their home. Quinn’s property was spared and, a week after the flood, she was still getting her house back in order.
Quinn went on to thank many after the crisis.
“I can’t speak more highly about our volunteer fire people, our police department, our public works department that had to close off roads and help where they could help.” She, once again, thanked Brozena, the West Pittston mayor and Thomas’ Landscaping for clearing up Luzerne Avenue Thursday morning of ice and debris to ensure the Fireman’s Memorial Bridge would reopen.
As for the Maronis, this could possibly be the last flood scare they face as they look for a possible government buyout. Argenio, over the last few years prior to retiring, has been thinking of downsizing and moving to make room for traveling.
West Pittstonians will be looking for help from federal, state, and county officials to help the borough sustain and continue into the future.
One area that could help would be in the form a securing a flood gage in West Pittston. “Water levels in West Pittston are not the same as Wilkes-Barre and that was the case 10-days ago,” Quinn said. “At times there is a difference of 10-feet. An accurate gage in West Pittston could better prepare our residents in case of future flooding.”
“We will always advocate for flood protection – always,” Quinn said. “I am hopeful through the county and the state and federal government that will see programs for mitigations whether it’s to raise utilities, fill in basements and hopefully elevate (raise) homes, would be helpful for a solution to this problem.”
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