Bank Customers Permitted Access to Belongings
By Rick Hiduk
Customers of Peoples State Bank in Wyalusing Township lined up with boxes, bags, plastic tubs and whatever else they could bring to the financial institution along Route 6 on Sept. 19, after being informed by bank representatives that they would be permitted to enter the building one-by-one to retrieve personal belongings from safe deposit boxes, many of which were saturated during recent flooding. A few people were fortunate enough to find that their treasures had not been destroyed, while others questioned once again why Peoples State Bank and other businesses had been permitted to build in an area that was devastated by the 1972 flood.
Bank customers who were interviewed for this story related that they were notified over the weekend that they would be allowed to recover their items between 1 and 4 p.m. on Monday.
“I knew one of them was under water when I saw the picture in the Rocket,” said Karen Parkhurst of Spring Hill as she moved ahead slowly with the rest of the people in line. She wondered about the condition of numerous collectibles handed down to her husband, Dennis, by his parents that were stored inside. “Hopefully, we can save a lot of it,” she remarked, adding, “the wait is hard enough. I had heard that it was going to be done by appointment.”
Peoples employees who monitored the entrance distributed blue rubber gloves and face masks to customers as it was their turn to go into the bank, as well as sealable plastic bags to anyone who did not bring a receptacle. According to bank chairman and CEO Don Abrey, a plastic tunnel had been constructed from the front vestibule to the safe deposit box area by GearClean, the company contracted to professionally clean the bank. The tunnel was under positive pressure, meaning that fresh air was being pumped through it to help insure that there was no backflow of the damp air that still remained in some parts of the building.
Abrey noted that water rose to heights of 36 to 42 inches throughout the single story structure. The good news, he added, was that water in the boxes was primarily clear, as the structure of the building had not been compromised, and the river water was more or less filtered as it entered the bank.
“The vault was not completely watertight,” Abrey conceded. Nonetheless, not all of the boxes under the waterline had taken on water, and he had not yet heard of any extreme cases of items that were entirely unsalvageable or irreplaceable.
While bank customer George Anderson of Wyalusing hoped out loud from outside the bank that lawyers who drew up some of the deeds, wills, titles, and trust fund documents that he feared might have been damaged by the flood would be able to reproduce them, Abrey said with relative certainty that such is almost always the case. He estimated that the belongings of about one third of the Peoples State Bank customers were affected by the rapid inundation of the building.
Although some customers had questioned the delay in allowing them access to their possessions, Abrey maintained that it was important that environmental issues, such as the possible presence of mold and microbes, be addressed first. Most of the bank has been chemically decontaminated. All furniture has been discarded, and approximately 235 cubic feet of loan files that had been compromised by the waters have been sent away to be professionally restored. The same information is electronically stored, and none of that data was lost, Abrey reported, “but it’s always nice to have the original documents available when possible,” he stated. Bank representatives, most of whom are sharing office space in the bank’s Church Street office in Wyalusing, can refer customers to similar companies who will restore their personal wet paperwork.
“Most of the customers have been pretty patient and understanding,” Abrey offered, but several waiting outside the bank in a warm autumn sun voiced their disapproval of the situation.
Anderson said that he’d questioned the Wyalusing Township supervisors when it was proposed in the early 1990s that the bank would be built on the site of a former motel that many people in the area recalled being flooded to the roofline in 1972. “Maybe they ought to quit building here,” he suggested.
Township supervisor Marvin Meteer recalls several conversations through the years about the possibility of catastrophic flooding in the growing business district. He noted that Peoples State Bank, relative to the businesses that surround it, built the land up quite a bit before the bank building was constructed by Milnes Engineering. Much of the earth that became the mound on which the bank was built, he noted, came from the low area just to its east.
“It was built above the 100-year flood plain,” Meteer explained. “It was incomprehensible that this would ever happen,” he said of the second “500-year” flood in less than 40 years. He fully expects the majority of the businesses that were affected by the recent disaster to open their doors again in the coming months. “It’s their business and their livelihood,” he stated.
Abrey implied that the teller area of Peoples State Bank could reopen within three to four weeks and that other parts of the building will be utilized over the next 60 days as cleanup efforts continue. In the meantime, all regular bank services are available at the Church Street office.