Gathering On The Shores Of Tragedy
I would rather be writing about anything other than the recent flood in my column this week, especially after summing up a trite experience with Hurricane Irene just two weeks ago.
The Flood of 2011 took almost everyone by surprise. Maybe a sense of denial that a disaster on the scale of the Agnes flood could never happen again made us hope for the best when the prognosis for this past week’s flooding took a turn for the worst. It was a fast-rising flood compared to both ’72 and ’75, and it came far too quickly on the heels of not only Irene but also moderate spring flooding, as well as significant flooding events in 2004 and 2006.
When I got up at 6 a.m. on Thursday, after a nearly sleepless night due to the same pounding rains that everybody else was trying not to hear, I started packing a two-night bag with the hope that I could get across the river to Wyalusing from Terry Township one time with the acceptance that I would likely get stranded on the borough side of the river until at least late Friday night. The truth is that nobody’s Thursday went as planned
I called the office once at 6:55 a.m., but no one was in yet. (We officially open at 8:30 a.m.) I thought of a few more items that I thought I’d need on the other side of the river and pushed them into my bag, and I prepped the cat with one extra bowl each of food and water. Nancy Keeler phoned me at about 7:10 and told me that there was no way that I could get to the Rocket-Courier office. “Take pictures safely, if you can,” she suggested.
Having some personal and familial concerns of my own about the flood, I was left a little disoriented by the sudden change of events and was feeling helpless. I began to realize that, in addition to not being able to cross the river, there was no completely safe access to Dushore via Wilmot Road, New Albany via SR 2010, Mehoopany and Tunkhannock via Route 87, nor Durrell via Route 187. I was stranded in Terry Township, so I did what most of the people there did. I drove to the river bridge to watched nature’s drama unfold.
Wyalusing New Albany Road at the bridge became quite the community gathering place during the course of the four days that we could not cross the river there. There was nervous laughter among people who could not check on other family members or property they had in other places. At the same time, there was a lot of sharing of information, and not all of it was true. For a number of reasons, I preferred to take a fly on the wall approach to the situation, so I didn’t speak up and correct people who were spreading frightening rumors. I also didn’t feel like making my way through the growing crowd with pad and pen asking ignorantly, “So, what do you think about the flood? Have you lost anything yet?” I believe I absorbed more of the human experience by remaining fairly anonymous. Everyone was taking photos, so few people noticed that I was too. I also scanned the ever-changing audience several times with the camera in the video mode.
Parents brought their children to witness something that will be seared into their memories, even though many of them were unable to comprehend the full scope of the situation. Most of the kids were excited about being out of school after barely beginning the new year, and they challenged each other to see who could throw rocks the farthest. More than a few people brought their dogs to the river, and I soon realized that canines love floods. What dog doesn’t love loud, splashy water with sticks in it and people standing en masse along the shoreline?
When I finally had an opportunity this week to sift through some of the 300 images I captured in at least eight municipalities over the course of six days and to watch the video segments, I got stuck on one from Terry Township that I want to upload to the website as soon as I have the time to. I’ve come to call the 35-second piece “The Silence.” I shot it late on Thursday, slowly turning 360 degrees from the river to the road full of people behind me and back to the river.
Nobody realized that I was shooting video, but nobody was speaking. Debris continued to hammer at the river bridge, and we feared that a mobile home or other large structure would be just enough to seriously damage it or knock a span into the river. The smell of propane was as heavy in the air as the smell of the muddy water itself. We had run out of jokes. There was nothing humorous about that moment.
We had not, however, lost our sense of awe. But in that video, I can see that something inside of us had changed. Awesome had become awful. There was no mistaking at this point that we were suffering a major disaster and that we all had friends and family who were experiencing untold suffering because of the flooding. It was a sick feeling, and I’m grateful that I wasn’t alone with it.