From the Wrath of Agnes
Shickshinny Bourgh like many other communities in Wyoming valley, sustained the greatest disaster in its history when Hurricane Agnes went on her rampage in late June, 1972.
Shickshinny is situated between two mountain ridges in a valley. On Thursday June 22, the little creek which runs through the center of town became a vicious monster even before the Susquehanna River left its banks the following day.
In the summer, the shallow stream is hardly noticed and when months go by without rain, it nearly dries up
On June 22, however the creek became Mother Naturess most deadly weapon in her war against this small community.
The heavy rains broke the Shickshinny Dam, sending a deluge into the creek. Cutting a path the width of several football fields, the stream vented its fury on Shickshinny Borough with the raging water more than 20 feet deep, taking everything standing before it.
Water smashed into homes and cars, carrying them away. Vine Street which runs through the heart of town, became a raging river and homeowners fled their dwellings to higher levels. A gaping hole opened on South Main Street, and the foundations of several establishments buckled and fell several feet into the ground.
A number of other structures were damaged heavily by the angry waters due to the flooding. Two area bridges which carried major thoroughfare traffic over creeks, were washed away. Every home in town was without water and electricity. Dwellings not directly in the path of the swollen creek did not escape its wrath. Hundreds of homes, even those in the higher elevations, felt the effects of the flood as water sometimes as high as two and three feet, filled cellars. Numerous streets and properties were were inundated by muddy waters
On the night of June 22, the river had not reached flood stage, but Shickshinny nevertheless was a disaster area.
My father says its the worst thing hes ever seen, and he is not a man who exaggerates, said Bob Curwood, Jr. Curwoods dad is a member of the Civil Defense, one of the many units which went into action when the flood came.
But it was clear from young Curwoods remarks that neither his father nor anyone else in town was sitting around feeling sorry for him self. They were waging an almost hopeless struggle against the uncontrollable elements of nature.
The water just kept getting higher and higher, said a Bulter Street resident who had to evacuate his home. The only emotion I can describe is panic. When I saw a home on Vine Street being carried away by the water, it was like a nightmare.
A total of four homes were washed away by the raging Shickshinny Creek. Miraculously, no was killed.
The basic decency which men show each other in times of crisis became evident during this disaster. Everyone seemed to be making an effort to help his neighbor to confirm the fact that this was not an individual tragedy but a burden to be shared equally by every person. The main concern on the night of June 22 was not of the damage that had been incurred but the of the problems ahead.
The borough had been to its knees by a flash flood of devastating ferocity, but the worst yet to come
The Susquehanna was rising steadily and it neared flood stage, those living close to its banks, though spared by the flash flooding, realized fully the potential danger.
On June 23, the river went berserk.
As the waters rose, emergency action was mapped to locate lodgings for those who were left homeless by the waters and long range plans were being considered to deal with other crises-such as shortages of water, sanitation facilities as well as a threat of an outbreak of a typhoid infection.
Army helicopters hovered over head and their occupants examined the situation. But the real work was being done down below as all available rescue, fire, police, health, and other municipal personnel aided those affected by the flood.
Police Chief Ronald Esposito coordinated rescue operations. Rowboats and motor boats were pressed into service to transport persons in the east end, which was completely inundated.
The west end of town is entirely cut off from the east section, Esposito said. These boats are our only means of contact.
Esposito, who went more than 36 hours without sleep, said everyone was evacuated from the flood area. Home owner routed from their dwellings were being sheltered in homes in the upper part of town.
The Shickshinny police chief had high praise for the towns teenagers who assisted in the rescue operation. I never again want to hear about how bad teenagers are,he said. As far as Im concerned, these kids are the greatest. They were real yeomen.
The chief said the most serious long-range threat was the water shortage
The National Guard will have to bring in some water within a few days or well be in real trouble, Esposito said on June 23 at the height of the flooding.
Esposito said he did not know where the supply helicopters might land. He said there was no room on any of the dry streets because of cars parked on both sides of the roads.
Rescue units said about 500 persons were evacuated from the flooded section of town. Esposito said the victims of the flood were being housed everywhere and any where thats safe, including churches and homes.
On June 24, most of the evacuees were transported to Northwest High School, situated about five miles outside downtown Shickshinny and safe from the flood waters. Water and sanitary facilities were available at the school.
On the night of June 23, after keeping a close watch on the water creeping up West Union Street, rescue personnel expressed the first sign of optimism as news arrived that the river had fallen one foot.
Chief Esposito imposed a 9 p.m. curfew and at the same time gave orders concerning the number of boats in operation.
These street lights could go out at any time and we dont want these boats bumping into each other, Esposito said.
The chief instructed three of his aides to man boats and ordered all others off the water.
Two other men set out for Huntington Mills to pick up food while the boats continued rescuing those routed from their homes.
One of the many emergencies which arose during the crisis was the immediate need for a diabetic, Mrs. Dorthy Kolmer.Asearch was begun to find a drugstore which could provide the serum.
Some fantastic sights greeted rescuers as they rowed up and down West Union Street.
My God its the roof of a house,gasped an assistant to Chief Esposito as he glanced at route 11, which was entirely under water. I thought things like that only happen in comic books.
Veterans of the 1936 flood reported this disaster was much worse. There was no comparison,said an old timer.
After the flood waters receded, the residents of the borough were faced with a monumental clean up job.
Every business establishment in Shickshinny suffered crushing damages.
Main Street, which carries traffic on the busy north-south Route 11, was washed out after the raging creek crumbled the bridge which spanned the waters, leaving a gap of approximately 50 feet in area.
Garrison Memorial Elementary School, where disaster headquarters were set up, was a beehive agencies endeavoring to bring all assistance possible to stricken families..
Capt. Adam Sieminski,Co. c, Second Bn., 109Division of the National Guard, Berwick was in charge of a detail of 56 guardsmen patrolling the area, regulating traffic and assisting where needed.
Main Street of the borough was under many feet of water, smashing out store windows and playing havoc throughout the area. Mannequins from Racusins Store were floating about like corks during the flood. Slides from steep banks on North Main Street, washed down debris down Ash Street, and it was reported that a man who was directing traffic at that location was caught in the landslide and buried with dirt and debris up to his chest. He was saved by several men who were near at the time.
Several days after the flood, crews from the telephone company were trying to restore out-of-t service, but it would be nearly a month before service returned to normal..
Nearly every establishment along Main Street had soaking, muddy furniture and other possessions along the curb in front of their locations, but a determined look was visible on the faces of the vitcms.
As in all other areas of the flood-hit town the destruction with out description. But the spirit of the people also was indescribable. Samuel Gensel, of 43 East Butler Street, seemed to sum it up perfectly by stating, Well move back as soon as possible. We had 12 feet of water- but theres no place like home.
There were several reports of looting during the flood, and several residents said vandals in boats smashed the plate-glass windows of the liquor store on North Main Street and removed several cases of liquor.
In early July, disaster headquarters in Shickshinny issued this to flood-stricken families:
1. Register at the Garrison Memorial School for all services, Va, social security, Flood Relief, Housing, Information, electricity, etc.
2. Food, clothing, cleaning supplies, etc. Are available at the Garrison Memorial School Gym if you need it. If the Salvation Army does not have these supplies they will get them for you. Lime is also available.
3. The post office is receiving mail and delivering some mail: hope for full service by the of the week.
4. The Acme will reopen in a couple of weeks.
5. There are buses running to Northwest High School for bathing, hot meals are also available.
6. The bank will reopen near the end of the week.
7. Place garbage in the street NOT on side walk- so bulldozers may clean up.
8. Any house cleaning needed for the disabled or old report it to the national guard, at the Garrison School.
The officials in charge of the clean-up project met daily to expedite the recovery of the area and also daily meetings were held to inform the public of the progress being made, and to give residents an opportunity to bring special problems to the attention of the officials.
The progress meetings were conducted under the direction of Capt. Sieminski with the heads of various giving their individual reports.
Lt. Col. Willam Berry reported at one meeting that though Shickshinny was number one in amount of damage from the flood in proportion to size, the community was not even listed on the disaster map.
Traffic control was a major problem in the borough due to the route 11 bridge on South Main Street being washed out. Traffic was being routed alternately south or north over one frail bridge at Vine Street,
Which was greatly weaken by the flood waters.
Members of Company C, 109Infantry of Berwick National Guard, Aided by State Police, And local volunteers, Controlled traffic with the aid of walkie talkies. The load limit on the Bridge is three tons and only one vehicle was allowed the bridge at a time.
Sightseers were a big Problem, causing traffic jams and getting in the way of cleanup crews. This was alleviated considerably by sentries stationed at all the access roads to Shickshinny. Only those with valid business in the borough were allowed to enter the community.
During the first week of July, the components of a bailey bridge (a portable bridge used by the military) arrived in the borough to replace the bridge washed out on route 11 and south main street.
The bailey bridge was transported on six huge trailers from New Jersey also two cranes arrives to help assemble the bridge by the 469Engineering Battalion under the command of Capt. Ronald Kuen and 50 of his troops.
Troops from Wilkes- Barres 365Battalion were also stationed in the borough they stayed at the Northwest High School.
The young people of the town, and surrounding area pitched in ,and worked around the clock helping in the clean up directing traffic, sentry duty, and other chores.
Mr. And Mrs. Whittier Matak of South Gate Calif. Former residents of Shickshinny were at the airport in Calif. Ready to begin their vacation in Shickshinny, and Mocanaqua when they heard a news bulletin over the radio pertaining to the floods in Wyoming Valley.
They debated whether to continue with their plans or return to their home they decided to follow through with their plans as they were concerned over the welfare of Mr. Mataks sister a Mrs. Mary Yeninas who lives on Italy Street in Mocanaqua, and many of their close friends in the vicinity.
The Mataks took the plane to Cleveland Ohio to stop off at the home of Mrs. Mataks brother, and sister-in-law a Mr. And Mrs. Clayton Gregory, from there the two couples traveled by car to Mocanaqua they also called the Pennsylvania, State Police and were told they were on their own once they left the interstate.
When the four people arrived in Shickshinny on July 1 they were appalled by the devastion. They stayed the night at Mrs. Yeninas in Mocanaqua and called on a few friends the following day to see if they be any help.
However finding the situation was under control they returned to their homes.
I would like to thank Harry Titus for typing this article.