Sugar Run Residents Felt Cut Off From the World, Vow to Rebuild
By Rick Hiduk
“I said after 1972, ‘I hope we never see this again,’” said Bill Durland of Wilmot Township as he ripped flood-soaked drywall away from studs in the entranceway of Wayne and Mabel Morrows’ house on Route 187 in Sugar Run. The house is situated opposite the river along the state highway. It has endured many minor floods. Wayne has preserved the high water marks of some of the bigger floods with lines drawn on the post at the bottom of the basement stairs. Two that are easier to read are the floods of 1996 and 2004. The 1972 flood put about five and half feet of water in the first floor of the home, and Wayne measured this most recent disaster at approximately four feet.
“One is just is bad as the other one,” he remarked. “There seems to be more mud this time.”
Durland agreed. He showed up 39 years ago to help restore the house when Wayne’s mother, Nellie Morrow, lived there. In 1972, Wayne also had the help of Richard Durland, Bill’s brother who has since passed away.
Residents and business owners up and down Route 187 drew comparisons to previous flood events, but most of their minds were still wrapped around the swiftness with which the river rose this time and how fortunate they felt to have escaped their flooding homes with a few personal belongings. There were obviously more people at each residence than lived there, which was heartening to the victims.
“I’ve been incredibly fortunate with help,” said Ruth Parsons, whose day care business next to her house was inundated. She did not get her vehicles out of the garage in time, so they sat on the driveway, stained with mud. Parsons felt blessed that the river stopped just short of the first floor of her home, even though the day care center took on about five feet water. Volunteers had removed almost everything from the ground floor of the building by Sunday afternoon, and the walls were knocked out on Monday.
Among the helpers were many Wyalusing Valley High School students, including three members of the school’s Leo Club. The mound of rugs, books, toys, and other items they had stacked in front of the day care was just one of many debris piles along Route 187 that were carted away to the county landfill on Tuesday and Wednesday.
It wasn’t just the rapid climb of the river into their neighborhood that took Sugar Run residents off guard, they related. The fluctuating predictions offered by the National Weather Service had many confused as to how much they should prepare, when just a few feet as plotted on a graph can make an enormous amount of difference in a home.
Early forecasts of a 27-foot crest would have brought the water no closer to her home than the top of the concrete stairs from the front lawn to the street, said Peggy Loomis, who ended up with four feet of water in her first floor. Her three sons and their families came to the rescue for Loomis and Don Palmer, with whom she shares the house, on Wednesday evening, and her daughter was among several friends and family members who arrived after the waters receded to help with the massive clean-up. Loomis was concerned that whoever was sent to the river village to remove debris piles might pass her by, as the frontage of her property was still underwater when the family began emptying the house, so everything was stacked beside it.
On Monday, Robert Baldwin was trying to clean off his mailbox on the river side of the road that was caked in thick mud. He had heard that mail service had resumed and didn’t want to be passed by. His home sits a little higher than those of his neighbors, so he didn’t have any water in his primary living area. Friends stopped by and helped him to empty his garage and basement. He had spread out his collection of craft supplies in hopes that he might salvage some of them. Baldwin was thankful that he had moved his car up the hill to the Wilmot Township fire hall on Wednesday.
The first floor of the Pickett residence was filled almost to the ceiling. While the home was in the process of being gutted, Don and Sharon Pickett were grateful that they had begun moving appliances to the second floor on Tuesday and the two school buses that they drive to higher ground. Their son, Steve Pickett, worked with neighbors to remove many items from the house as the rain continued to fall and the river swelled.
“When we started, I was able to get my truck up to the door,” Steve explained, as he pointed to the front of the house. The water was soon at the doors of the vehicle, and they switched their evacuation efforts to the narrower back door. By the time they gave up and abandoned the house, the Picketts were utilizing Don’s and Steve’s fishing boats. “I guess that we should have started earlier,” said Sharon.
Dave Buck of Endless Mountain Outfitters (EMO) related that he and his wife, Melody, were also feeling fairly confident that the Susquehanna would not surpass its 2004 crest. The couple and the staff of Endless Mountain Outfitters started emptying the business office and shop on Wednesday morning, but the water was already coming into the store by 2:30 that afternoon. Many office supplies and life jackets were moved to the second floor, while other supplies in cardboard boxes quickly became impossible to move when the bottoms of the containers became wet. Employees began using canoes to rescue other equipment.
The crew used the company’s vans to start moving canoes and kayaks to higher ground, but the tires were spinning in the mud as the water inundated the property. Finally, the decision was made to close up the barn that housed the remainder of EMO’s stock and supplies with the idea that the mostly buoyant items would bobble around inside the structure but not wash away. The aforementioned vessels were moved again to the Bucks’ yard on the other side of the road, and the couple and their friends watched and waited as the river continue to climb. The large doors on the upper side of the barn also proved to be quite buoyant and lifted up, allowing a torrent of water to pour through the building and push a side door open like a hinge. Kayaks and dozens of paddles hung out the side door after the river went down, but Buck still felt that the overall loss was limited, and he was grateful that the water did not reach the house.
“I’m not hungry, and I have water,” Dave said of his general well-being, adding that getting electricity back on Saturday evening was a good feeling. Waking up to the aftermath on Saturday morning, however, was not.
“We all felt kind of lost and alone the day after the flood. There was no plan, no leadership,” Buck recalled. He appreciated a visit by Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith, who also delivered bottled water to the fire house, which is situated above the flood zone. Buck noted that he is still in the assessment phase, but plans to reopen his recreational business and get people back on the river as soon as he can.
“We thought that everyone had forgotten about our little village by the river,” stated Wilmot Township resident Ken Mapes, who assisted numerous homeowners along Route 187, including Wayne Morrow and Ruth Parsons.
“It’s still all so new,” Parsons said on Monday, “but we’re going to get it all back together again.”