Bradford County Swings Into Recovery Mode
By Rick Hiduk
Bradford County emergency services director Robert Barnes announced from the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in North Towanda Township on Saturday afternoon that county agencies are out of the “rescue mode” and making the transition into the first phases of recovery. Officials and volunteers reached some remote sections of the county for the first time on Saturday and reported that communities like Sugar Run and Rome and Windham townships are devastated by flooding, and residents there are in need of basic services.
“This part of what we do will continue to grow over the next few weeks,” said Barnes, who hopes to be able to announce a revamped list of distribution centers on Monday, as well as collection points for donations of items needed by victims. Barnes noted that the American Red Cross will serve as the point of contact for coordination and distribution of materials need, while the EOC will oversee the collection of monetary donations via a disaster relief fund.
Among the tasks assigned to National Guard troops, who are also operating from the EOC, are transportation of materials to the distribution points and staffing those locations, which, as of Sunday, include the fire halls in Wyalusing and in Wysox and Wilmot townships, as well as at Towanda Middle School and the Kmart plaza in Sayre. Over the next few days, the EOC hopes to bring distribution centers online in Monroeton and New Albany. Shelters are still open at the Wyalusing and Athens fire halls.
“The work that we are now engaged in so heavily has to do with acquiring assets to facilitate the response,” said Barnes, who conducted the press conference with Bradford County commissioner Mark Smith. The enormity of the flooding situation, which also greatly impacted lower New York State, means that some supplies and logistical assistance are slower to arrive than he had hoped. Among these are personal hygiene and home cleaning kits and ready to eat meals, which Barnes would arrive in time for distribution on Sunday.
While he acknowledged that the stress of waiting for help adds to the particularly grave situations that many flood victims are already experiencing, Barnes asked for patience. “Give us a day or two to get the proper resources here to do damage assessments,” which he indicated will allow for safely reopening roads and reenergizing the electric grid so that more people can begin pumping out their homes. He related that a large number of requests are being made of fire companies to pump out basements, but he cautioned that the hydrologic pressure in the ground remains such that foundation walls can be compromised if the basements are pumped dry too soon.
“There is a significant hazard in having a cellar pumped too early,” Barnes stated. “There’s a great risk that the walls will not withstand the external pressure that the water is still putting on them, especially in low-lying areas.”
On the topic of electricity, Barnes noted that the EOC is working with local electric companies to bring power back to as many homes as possible. Residents whose electrical panels were submerged will face the longest delays as their homes must be inspected by code officers before the electric company can restore service.
Smith noted that the county is also preparing to receive large amounts of debris, which, he and other county officials have reported, is already piling up along the streets in communities affected by flash flooding, such as Monroeton and Rome. Pickups will be coordinated in some communities, and dumpster sites will be announced for others on Monday or Tuesday.
In the meantime, the EOC issued safety information for residents returning to their homes. They include keeping children and pets out of affected areas, wearing protective gear, and immediately removing from the home any items that cannot be properly cleaned and disinfected. The latter includes mattresses and foam bedding, carpeting, upholstered furniture, stuffed animals, books, and wall coverings. Clothing worn during cleanup should be washed in hot water and detergent separately from other clothing. The EOC encourages the use of laundromats, as some sewage and septic systems may not yet be up to the task of receiving substantial discharges from homes.
As the threat of diarrheal diseases, chemical hazards, and wound infections is particularly high, anybody who is injured or feels ill should seek medical help immediately. More information can be found online at www.bradfordcountypa.org under the “flood information” link at lower left.