Wyoming County Flood Response in Recovery Phase
By D.C. Koviack
On Tuesday morning, the Wyoming County Commissioners received an update from the county’s EMS Director Gene Dziak on the county’s emergency response following flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. Dziak said the response had shifted from the Rescue phase to the Recovery phase.
“Teams are out today doing damage assessment,” Dziak explained. He confirmed that two people are currently missing from Windy Valley Road in Forkston. The Windy Valley Road Bridge was destroyed during the hurricane. “We don’t want to release the names yet,” he said. Dziak noted that the state police had been working with search teams to try and locate the missing persons. He said he did not think the missing persons had been evacuated. “But it’s hard to know for sure.”
(A report late Tuesday from the state police revealed that both missing persons had been found unharmed. One was evacuated and the other, police told the Rocket-Courier, would get to safety on his or her own. Names were still not being released).
Dziak denied a rumor that a body had been spotted floating down Bowman’s Creek at the height of the storm. “We think that was a mannequin,” he told the commissioners. “We did respond to that, had people stationed along the creek and the river to see if they could recover anyone.”
Beginning today, Thursday, representatives from PEMA (PA Emergency Management Agency) will be on hand to do individual and public assistance evaluations, and there should be a mobile disaster center set up in the county. The disaster shelter is still open at Tunkhannock High School, Dziak said. Although school starts at the end of this week, there are only a few people using the shelter so Dziak thought it likely wouldn’t be a problem. He said most of the evacuees and other residents who have fled their homes because of hurricane damage are staying with family or friends. Several people were evacuated, some by airlifts from areas completely isolated by flooding. A handful refused to be evacuated, Dziak revealed. “They’re on their own now until we can get to them.”
Dziak explained that the biggest frustration and challenge has been getting access to the damaged areas, many of which are currently able to be viewed only from the air. Dziak was with Gov. Tom Corbett and FEMA and PEMA officials on Monday viewing the devastated areas. He reported that the governor seemed amenable to allowing debris clearing in a wider range in streams and the commissioners greeted this news happily.
“Downed trees and limbs from other floods and storms are what caused all these problems,” noted Commissioner Judy Mead. “If we could clean the streams up properly, we could avoid problems of this scope in the future,” she added. Right now, legislation limits the distance above and below bridges across Pennsylvania’s streams in which debris may be cleared. The legislation was prompted by environmental concerns for the purity and quality of the waterways. However, it appears that the governor may allow temporary lifting of these regulations in cases of emergencies.
Dziak told the commissioners that he hopes to have primitive access paths established to the county’s isolated areas by the end of the week, even if the paths are only traversable by ATVs. Food and water have been delivered to Noxen and Forkston and will continue to be available until the crisis is over. The Red Cross is supplying cleanup kits, but Dziak said dumpsters and portable toilets are now at a premium.
Roads that were closed because of flooding are slowly re-opening although Route 29 south of Tunkhannock is still shut at the Roadside Rest until that bridge is inspected and declared sound. Route 87 is still closed in parts because of the collapse of the Dunlap’s Grove Bridge, but Sugar Hollow Road is now open, he said. State Route 3001 is “pretty much destroyed,” he told the commissioners, as was the bridge along Township Road 302 in the center of Forkston, and the Catlin Hollow Road bridge.
County-owned bridges that were destroyed or severely damaged last weekend will be evaluated this week by CECO associates, the engineering firm that handles the bridges. Dziak also admitted that there were problems throughout the flooded areas with fuel oil spills. “People who have oil tanks in their basement and had their basements flood had oil spills,” he explained, adding that Forkston had been particularly hard hit in this manner. Dziak told the commissioners that the county’s State of Emergency, which was lifted Sunday night, will be reinstated next Monday and continue until the county and state receive federal disaster declaration status.