I’ll Remember It As The Internet Flood
Odds are people will be debating for years which was worse: The Hurricane Agnes Flood of 1972 or last week’s disaster. Although there are places where the water was higher this time, I say Agnes still holds the record when it comes to the calamity it caused. I’ll remind you that Agnes swept away major bridges on the Susquehanna and that, fortunately, didn’t happen this time.
And here’s a significant difference between Hurricane Agnes and last week’s flood— it’s the advent of the Internet and Facebook and cell phones and all the other new ways we communicate that didn’t exist in 1972.
My dad, Bill Keeler, was editor of this newspaper in 1972, and on the front page of the issue that covered the Agnes flooding, he wrote a brief account about how difficult it had been to cover the flooding because of all the roads that were washed out or underwater.
It was the same thing last week. There were places we needed to be to provide coverage but couldn’t get to. So we put a blurb on our website asking people to email us photos and the response was overwhelming. Instead of us going to the flood scene, it came to us via email. We received dozens of emails and hundreds of photos. We posted the photos people sent us on our website and online photo gallery and during the two days of peak flooding, over 10,000 people visited our website. Many of those photos are included in this week’s flood coverage. I think my dad would be impressed.
And when the word began to spread that volunteers were needed to help with the clean-up in Wyalusing, you can bet it was Facebook messages, texting and email that brought droves of people to town. It was an impressive sight. At Ace Hardware there were so many volunteers that Priscilla Hanzok who had helped organize the clean-up, quietly confided to me that there were so many people trying to help out that they were getting in each others’ way.
I used an iPhone to shoot photos and movies of flooding at Camptown’s Dandy Mini Mart Wednesday afternoon. I had a Nikon SLR camera with me but was concerned about walking down flooded Route 409 in knee-deep water and pouring rain carrying that expensive camera, so I left the Nikon in my truck and tucked the iPhone in my raincoat pocket. The photos I took turned out great, and one of them ran atop the front page of last week’s paper. As a side note, I should mention how surprised I was to find out that the Dandy Mini Mart reopened just two days later on Friday and was selling gas Saturday. Last time I’d seen the place it was in the middle of a torrent.
Cell phones also played important roles in emergencies, and there’s no telling how many catastrophes might have been circumvented or how many deaths could have been prevented back in 1972 if cell phones had existed.
I suspect it was likely a cell phone call that saved my friend Mike Sitas’s life last week, although I don’t know for certain how emergency crews were notified of the horrible situation Mike and his wife, Bev, found themselves in.
They were headed to their Herrick Township home Wednesday from Robert Packer Hospital, where Bev had a PET scan. Mike was leading the way in his pickup truck and Bev was behind him driving a Jeep Liberty. When they came to a place near Allis Hollow where floodwater was flowing over the road, Mike made it through with no problem, but Bev’s car stalled, leaving her stranded in the fast flowing and rapidly rising water. With the help of some nearby gas company workers, Mike was in the process of pushing Bev and her car to safety when he suffered a heart attack. Someone called the Wysox Fire Company and Mike ended up being transported to Sayre in a fire truck where he later underwent surgery.
It could have ended tragically, but fortunately this story has a happy ending. The surgery went wonderfully well, and Mike and I plan to be fishing at Assateague Island this weekend.
Odds are if this incident had taken place in 1972, it would not have ended so pleasantly.
So technology played a huge role in the Flood of 2011. It saved lives, It helped us tell the story of this major flood and it let people communicate in ways that my dad and his contemporaries could never imagined.