It’s very difficult to focus on writing when you know your town is on the brink of another natural disaster. Flooding in West Pittston that occurred this week is something West Pittstonians have become all too familiar with over the decades.
Winter floods are so difficult, especially when you’re talking about tons and tons of ice jammed from as far as the eye can see, north to south.
My great uncle was a photographer back in the early 1900s when he took a photo of what seemed to be a large iceberg sitting on the front lawn of a resident’s home on Susquehanna Avenue in West Pittston. I can’t recall the date he had written on the photo, but it was around 1904.
For many years, the Sunday Dispatch ran that photo during winter or around the anniversary of that ice flood.
As the ice-filled water levels rose this past Wednesday, there was a lot of confusion on the crest levels or when it would even happen. Predicting a winter flood with ice has to be a very complicated thing.
Ice jams along so many miles of the Susquehanna play a big part. In fact, many people speculate the Eighth Street Bridge was not built high enough and it creates a jam.
I’m not so sure the height of the bridge is the issue as much as the length of the span and the piers. I would think any bridge could be responsible for an ice jam.
I took photos and a video from the Fireman’s Memorial Bridge, or as locals commonly know it, the metal bridge, at noon on Wednesday. I was astonished to see the height and size of the bergs. I estimated the average height was four feet. If a berg is exposed four feet above the surface, below may be the same size.
If you frequent Facebook or any social media, you would have seen a few drone videos that flew over West Pittston. It was incredible to see mile after mile, shore-to-shore ice. We’ve had winter flooding before, but not to this level in recent years.
Here’s the thing — how many more times do the poor folks who live within blocks of the river have to suffer such anxiety, pain and suffering before anything is done?
For those of you reading this who do not live in a flood plain, east or west side of the Susquehanna or creek for that matter, you may have never seen the anguish on a homeowner’s face when the river rises.
The tension is high and life stands still while everyone waits for Mother Nature to do her thing.
There are a lot of folks in the borough who have lived through so many flooding episodes, they are far too used to it. Some prepare well and other don’t. Some people are cautious and others are skeptical. Sometimes it’s a fine line between the two.
West Pittston Borough officials do a great job monitoring the situation in conjunction with the National Weather Service and the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency in keeping borough residents as safe as possible.
West Pittston is less than one mile square but the majority of its border is the Susquehanna River bank that bends around the town.
With the beefing up of levees down river, West Pittston has become a basin, more or less, as we learned with the 2011 flood.
Homes not touched in the Agnes Flood of 1972 had flooding in 2011. Homes that had basement flooding in ’72 had first floor flooding in ’11. Flooding in this town is taken very seriously.
If the ice jam didn’t break up like it did and when it did, catastrophic flood numbers where being tossed out that rivaled the 2011 flood.
Restaurant owner Joe Agolino has seen a flood or two at his establishment that sits within a block of the river. Needless-to-say, he was inconsolable Wednesday morning. He had placed a call to his insurance agent and was already thinking of the worst. I couldn’t blame him.
With early numbers coming in by noon Wednesday, it seemed his restaurant was in the line of fire once again. “The question is, do I move out for good or do I stay?” he said.
In 2011, Agolino’s took a terrible hit from the flood that surpassed the 1972 numbers. The water was a few feet higher than decades earlier. Not only that, but the restaurant’s space doubled in size since ’72 when Joe added on a dining room and increased the kitchen square footage.
After that devastating blow, Joe knew he needed to come back and come back strong. He led the way for the entire town to follow and, within months, his restaurant was not only back up and running, but sported an entire new layout.
Only 6 ½ years later, Joe was about to face his worst nightmare again. By the grace of God, things worked out in his favor.
How much longer will West Pittston residents have to endure these nightmarish scares? When will the cost of a levee take a back seat to human lives and property destruction? With the exception of one life lost during the 2011 flood, we’re fortunate that so many lives are spared during these disasters.
In the meantime, until something can be done to eliminate flooding in West Pittston, town folk will just have to pray for a miracle like the one that happened Wednesday evening when the ice jam broke.
Quote of the week
“Every stress leaves an incredible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.” – Dr. Hans Selye, endocrinologist pioneer
Thought of the week
“You can’t have successes unless you can accept failure.” – George Cukor, American film director
“Never forget that the most powerful force on earth is love.” – Nelson Rockefeller, US vice president