Bradford County Coordinates Relief Efforts
Delay in Arrival of Needed Supplies Frustrates Officials
By Rick Hiduk
A cloud of dust hung over Main Street in downtown Towanda last Thursday afternoon as public officials gathered behind the Bradford County Courthouse to kick off the first in a series of four press conferences geared to getting information out to the public that would help them cope with the tragic consequences of catastrophic flooding in the area. With the slowly receding Susquehanna River as a backdrop, county commissioners Mark Smith and Doug McLinko, along with county emergency services director Robert Barnes, assured those in attendance that all emergency and crisis service agencies and personnel in Bradford County were performing their respective duties at or above expected levels of proficiency.
Smith praised the high level of cooperation between industry, volunteer-based groups, and government officials that had bolstered the confidence of the team heading the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in North Towanda and left them with the sense that they would be able to meet most of the immediate needs of residents affected by the flooding caused by the remains of Tropical Storm Lee.
Barnes related that the county’s 911 center had logged nearly 4,000 calls between last Wednesday and Friday alone. Fifty-six of those calls resulted in hands-on rescue efforts by first responders in the various communities that were affected by the deluge.
He also disclosed that the county had requested outside assistance, including a swift water rescue unit and personal hygiene and home cleaning kits that had not arrived in the county. The rescue unit could not immediately access Bradford County due to the number of roads that were impassable, so its members were instead dispatched to lower New York State, which was equally impacted by the heavy rains.
As the weekend approached, Barnes and the rest of the team members began to realize that many of the supplies that they had hoped to receive, with the exception of ready-to-eat meals that have been distributed to emergency shelters, might not be coming at all. So, he explained, calls for the individual components of cleaning and personal hygiene kits had gone out to enable county employees and volunteers to assemble care packages.
The devastated infrastructure was also making it difficult to coordinate relief efforts in areas like Wyalusing and Rome that had been isolated by the flooding. Some communities, such as Sugar Run in Wilmot Township, could not be reached until late in the weekend.
Smith praised gas companies, such as Chesapeake Energy and Talisman Energy, and other industries for quickly stepping up to assist the county with monetary contributions and loans of heavy equipment to move debris from individual communities to Northern Tier Solid Waste Authority’s landfill in Burlington. The companies also helped to transport water buffalos and bottled water to points of distribution that were continuously moved closer to the people who most needed them. The majority of local fire companies continue to distribute supplies to their respective communities via their fire halls.
Barnes expressed dismay at reports of whole families digging through flood debris with their bare hands and no other protective gear. He acknowledged their desire to put their lives back together as quickly as possible but warned also of the unseen dangers of contamination and disease lurking in flood mud and water that is slow to recede.
In the meantime, county clerk Michelle Shedden rushed incoming recovery information to Facebook users as quickly as she was able. She related that many people use the social networking site, which is also easier to edit than the county’s website. Nonetheless, a bevy of information from government agencies as to how to decontaminate homes, safely process food, secure the safety of water supplies and how to get rid of flood debris can be found online at www.bradfordcountypa.org under the link at the lower left labeled “flood information.”
Residents with emergency needs that have not yet been met by their local fire companies can contact the EOC directly at 570-265-5022. The Bradford Wyoming County Chapter of the American Red Cross is working out of the EOC office and can be reached at the same number.
The most recent development on the larger scale is the opening of three local Disaster Recovery Centers, at which people will find basic supplies, information on resources available to them, and representatives from various relief agencies like FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency.) FEMA requires that flood victims register in advance with the agency via phone or internet to receive an ID number that will reportedly make the rest of the process go more efficiently.
All residents who have experienced property or other personal losses due to recent flooding should call 800-621-FEMA (3362), log on to www.DisasterAssistance.gov online, or access m.fema.gov via a web-enabled mobile device as soon as possible. Flood victims with a speech disability or hearing loss who use a TTY may call 800-462-7585.
Readers looking to donate money or items may contact the area Salvation Army office at 570-677-7004.
The Disaster Recovery Centers are located at the Towanda Fire Department, 101 Elm St., Towanda, at the Tunkhannock Area Administration Building, 41 Philadelphia Ave., Tunkhannock, and at the Loyalsock State Forest District Office at 6735 Route 220 in Laporte.
Any residents can haul their flood debris to Northern Tier Solid Waste Authority at no charge through Sunday, Sept. 18. FEMA will pick up the tab for individual homeowners and municipalities. A number of large-scale trash pickups have been conducted or are planned. For example, trash placed at curbsides in Wyalusing Township will be picked up on Thursday. In communities where the bulldozers and dump trucks have already made their rounds, residents should assume the responsibility for transporting the remainder of their flood debris to the landfill.
Also on Thursday, P&G is planning to deliver a truckload of diapers and paper towels to the former Wyalusing Elementary School building just off Route 6.