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About Agnes: Scrubbing Dad’s records with Brillo, and other memories June 30, 2006

Posted by makingyourdashcount in Agnes, flooding, Susquehanna, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Wilkes-Barre.

Officials on Wednesday ordered 150,000 to 200,000 people in the Wilkes-Barre area to evacuate their homes as a precaution because of the rising level of the Susquehanna River, according to a state emergency management official.

The sounds and images of June 1972 (hurricane Agnes) vividly filled my mind, 35 years later, as Wyoming Valley is again evacuated in fear of flood. I remember wandering into my parents’ room in the middle of that night, as official vehicles announced via speaker to evacuate our homes. As part of a surrealist painting, we heard the orders and left for higher ground. We didn’t even take a change of clothes. No one expected the river to really flood.

My oldest brother went with my father to help fill sand bags on the dike. My mother took my other brothers (11 and 16) with me (14) and drove. We drove up a hill to Larksville, a place I had never been, and we parked on a street.

And we sat.
We had parked outside of an elderly couple’s home, the Kapulkas, who in early 70’s neighborliness, invited us into their home. To this day, I wonder if they would have invited us in if we had the final two family members. As far as they knew, it was the pitiful sight of a mom and her 3 kids. They had houseguests for a week. I will always remember the hospitality of the Kapulkas, and hope that I would have the heart to open my home as readily as they did to people in need.

Bob and I drove back to the house to leave a note for Henry and Dad. I had no tape to post a message, but resourcefully used a stick of well chewed Doublemint gum. To this day, I take pride in sticking the note on the door with that gum. Even with flood waters looming, we only grabbed one essential for our trek: a left over lasagna from a cast party just the night before.

Thus began the trek of washing hundreds of records, including one I scrubbed with brillo when the chore got so tedious and tiresome, legos- you have NO idea what cleaning legos of dried mud is like, and throwing out most everything that floated to the ceiling of the first floor of our home (including a Steinway grand.)

We and everyone else within Wyoming Valley.

Bringing an old city back to its glory was a tough task after Agnes. Bringing back a city from ruin is emotionally, spiritually and financially draining. No one had flood insurance. The last flood had been in the 30’s. Families who rebuilt essentially paid for their homes and businesses twice, the original mortgages and the second ones.

Although Wilkes-Barre cleaned up relatively quickly, and most businesses and citizens were determined to return, it has taken 35 years for the rebirth to blossom. An example of the bloom is a new 14 screen theater that just opened last week downtown!

The mayor of Wilkes-Barre, Tom Leighton, has led the vision of renewal:

I wanted downtown to be back like when I was a kid, so my kids could enjoy it like I did,” recalls Leighton. When I ran for office, people told me, ‘We want our old downtown.’

Rebirth has taken 35 years.

So when I heard the evacuation orders live at my desk in Westerville, Ohio via the wonders of the internet, all thoughts went to my hometown to our friends and relatives with rebuilt lives and businesses and I wondered,

How can you rebuild twice? If the river flooded, what would become of the Wyoming Valley?

I was part of the collective sigh of relief, when the dikes held and the river crested below them. Never again do I want to stay glued to Internet TV and radio news or to see familiar family landmarks on CNN.

–Once a valley girl… always a valley girl.


1. schroeder - July 1, 2006

It’s interesting how similar are the experiences — finding the hospitality of strangers, leaving messages behind, losing everything, having to pay twice to salvage homes (although it remains to be seen whether New Orleanians will be saved from that grief, we’ll end up paying one way or another is my suspicion).

2. makingyourdashcount - July 2, 2006

I suspect that the difference between the two is the governmental support we had. Local, State and Federal agencies, as well as the Red Cross really stepped in and did their thing. Being a smaller city (in the 70’s,)we also did not have the abject poverty seen in New Orleans.

I expect you are right- paying for it one way or another. One has to start over, whether there or somewhere else. Sometimes I wonder.. If my parents knew then what they know now.. would they have stayed in the Valley? At the time I don’t think they considered that there was even that option.

3. www.aspc.com.tw - June 9, 2017


About Agnes: Scrubbing Dad’s records with Brillo, and other memories | Making your Dash Count

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About Agnes: Scrubbing Dad’s records with Brillo, and other memories | Making your Dash Count

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