IT'S A DISASTER
Extent Of Flooding From Hurricane Lee Takes Area by Surprise
By Rick Hiduk
Earlier this week, Tropical Storm Lee, which formed just off the coast of Louisiana and Alabama, appeared that it would produce several gloomy days in a row with heavy showers off and on through the week. As the gulf moisture has streamed northward, however, it has become trapped by a nearly stationary cold front from the upper Midwest that is squeezing copious amounts of rain out of the system.
By midday Wednesday, rainfall forecasts for the central Pennsylvania counties running from south to north, including Sullivan, Bradford, Wyoming, and Susquehanna, were nearly doubled. At the same time, the National Weather Service continuously updated stream and river projections with figures that indicated that flooding along some waterways could reach historic levels overnight from Wednesday and throughout the day on Thursday. Predictions for major flooding on the Towanda Creek at Monroeton and the Susquehanna River at Towanda and Waverly prompted early dismissals for most school districts in the area, emergency staffing of all fire and ambulance companies, and the closure and evacuations of several businesses.
PennDOT began issuing reports of flooded roadways early Wednesday morning, most of them located in Columbia, Northumberland, and Snyder Counties. The addition of portions of Nordmont Road in Sullivan County to the list at 9 a.m. was just the beginning of a day during which there would be no end to official warnings and calls for assistance. For many area residents, this bout with Lee represented a third or fourth round of serious flooding in 2011 alone.
By noon, Route 220 had been closed in various municipalities, including at New Albany, where a woman was reported to be trapped in a vehicle in rising waters, and in Dushore, which had been moderately impacted by the remnants of Hurricane Irene a week earlier. In Rome, residents were being evacuated to the fire hall as Route 187 was closed to the New York state line. At the west end of Wysox Township, the CraftMaster Plant was evacuated with the help of emergency responders, while Route 6 east of Wysox was closed when runoff could not drain quickly enough into Wysox Creek. The scanner was replete with miscellaneous reports of people trapped in homes and vehicles throughout the afternoon.
The American Red Cross of Sullivan and Bradford Counties had to vacate their new offices at the airport on the South Towanda flats and temporarily set up operations at the Bradford County Communication Center. Shelters had opened by midday at the Wysox Fire Hall and at St. Francis Hall in Mildred, Sullivan County. People needing assistance from the agency may call 570-268-7701.
The Towanda Creek at Monroeton was predicted to crest at about 20.5 feet at 8 a.m. on Thursday, which would make water levels comparable to the 1996 and 2004 floods. The Susquehanna River at Towanda is expected to peak at about 23.7 feet near 8 p.m., which is slightly higher than a 2005 crest. Meshoppen’s 35.1 predicted crest at 2 a.m. on Friday would be slightly less than the 2004 flood, but still among the top five floods there since records have been kept. If the Susquehanna River at Waverly peaks as projected at 20.7 feet at 6 p.m., it too will rank among the top five high water marks of all time. Tunkhannock Creek at Tunkhannock was not seen as a major threat as of early afternoon on Wednesday, with the expected crest at 2 p.m. on Thursday stopping short of the official flood stage of 11 feet. The Susquehanna River at Wilkes-Barre, however, is expected to crest around 30.9 at 1 a.m. on Friday. While not a top 10 flooding event, the effects are still supposed to be major.
Just before 1 p.m., Wyoming County Emergency Management director Eugene Dziak issued a statement that combined news about recovery from Hurricane Irene in the Forkston area with dire predictions about inaccessibility to the community in the coming hours and days as creeks began another rapid rise. The Wyoming County Incident Command Trailer had been mobilized on Nimble Hill Road in order to localize emergency response efforts. The statement advised residents in the Forkston area to evacuate and stay away from their homes as the area has not yet been stabilized from the previous week’s flooding. An American Red Cross shelter had been established at the Mehoopany Township Building, and Dziak encouraged taking advantage of the shelters or staying with friends and family members in safer areas. Areas of particular concern in Wyoming County included Myo Beach in the Meshoppen area, Black Diamond Beach and Route 92 south in Tunkhannock Township, and River Road in Exeter Township.
The Bradford County Commissioners declared a county-wide State of Emergency at 1 p.m., banning all unnecessary travel due to flooded and washed out roadways, as well as bridges that had been compromised by the rapidly rising waters. The board encouraged county residents to use the 911 system only for true emergencies. The switchboard had been flooded with calls of “water over the roadway,” which was a moot point by noon. Those in need may also contact the county’s Emergency Management Agency at 570-265-5022. By late afternoon, Camptown and Wysox were experiencing widespread flooding, with large portions of both the villages inundated.
As the Rocket-Courier went to press, administrators in most school districts planned for all schools to be closed on Thursday. In addition to the aforementioned, major road closings as of late afternoon included, in Bradford County, portions of Route 6 from Wysox to Standing Stone Township, Route 187 in Asylum Township, Route 220 in Monroeton and south of New Albany, Route 487 in Rome Township, Shores Road in Sheshequin Township, LeRaysville Road from Routes 487 to 187, Warren Center Road in Warren Township; in Sullivan County, most of Route 220, Route 154 in Elkland Township, and Beaver Lake Road in Davidson Township; and in Susquehanna County, Route 267 in Rush Township, all of Route 858, most of Bear Swamp Road, SR 2067 between Route 92 and Gibson, Springville and Elk Lake School Road at Dimock, Bowbridge Road between Trailer Park Road and Apolacon, and Maple Ave. (SR 4018) between the Bradford County line and Main Street in Little Meadows.
Flooding photos and video will be posted at www.rocket-courier.com as they can be processed.