The devastation left behind by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee is shown on the following pages. Lee unleashed more than a foot of rain in places from Louisiana to New York, sending creeks and rivers rising to record levels and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
In Wilkes-Barre and Bloomsburg, the Susquehanna crested at the highest height ever recorded. For most places, the record to beat was Hurricane Agnes in 1972. In Benton, it was Hurrican Eloise. Lee surpassed all of these.
President Obama declared disaster areas for 42 counties in Pennsylvania. The worst of the flooding was focused along the Susquehanna River Valley, which extends from Cooperstown, New York, to the northern end of Chesapeake Bay. When totaling up the damage caused from Louisiana to New York, Lee could become the nation's 11th billion-dollar disaster this year. The year 2011 set the record for most billion-dollar disasters in a year in the U.S. when Irene became the 10th.
This section is taken from the daily pages of the Benton News as it unfolded. The perespective of this section is in the upper Fishing Creek area.
September 8, 2011
The weather in the form of Tropical Storm Lee with the possibility of flooding is the big news for the local area. The storm could stall and move slowly over the state through Thursday night, potentially dumping 3 to 10 inches of rain bringing streams into flood stage Thursday evening into Friday. The Susquehanna River in Harrisburg is forecast by the Patriot News to reach at least 20.5 feet on Friday. Flood stage is 17 feet.
Also Published September 8, 2011
Traffic on Park Street picked up as school was dismissed at 11:30. By noon Wednesday, it was clear that the upper Fishing Creek Valley had entered the preliminary stages of flooding. Long lines of cars slowly moved into a good viewing position on Park Street overlooking the Benton dam. Many stopped. Strangers talked to each other about "how high the water" had risen and how happy they were that an effort to make sure the dam was secure had been undertaken.
A local barometer of flooding in Benton Borough is an iron railing that runs for twelve feet or so from the shore line along the breast of the dam. When high water is under that iron railing, the town is usually fine. When racing waters lap at that railing or cover it with water, it is only a matter of minutes before real trouble begins. At noon, the Kozy Korner crowd prepared for lunch discussions over chicken and waffles by looking at the water in the dam. They all knew what would come next. The restaurant proprietor, Starlett Grassley, who lives in the former manse of the adjacent Presbyterian Church, should have closed and sent everyone home, but she stayed in the kitchen filling orders until she had to vacate about 2 o'clock.
I turned off the furnace in the house and all electricity in the basement, but left the power on to the upstairs.
The Bloomsburg Fire Department arrived in Benton looking for the spot where they had been dispatched to make a water rescue. The location was in Maple Grove, a mile south of the borough line, where a line of houses were cut off from Route 487 by out-of-control flooding water. I heard that water was overflowing the highway and drove South to take pictures. Water was lapping at the berm of the road all the way to Stillwater where I wanted to check on the Stillwater covered bridge and the former Stillwater school. When I was satisfied that the bridge was fine, I quickly turned around and headed back toward Benton, but ran into fire trucks parked on Route 487 assisting a boat making the water rescue. The road was blocked by emergency personnel and by cars and trucks driven by people who had been released from work early.
After a stop on the highway that seemed like an eternity, traffic began moving again--until I reached the Steve Shannon Tire Store on Mill Street, where all traffic was diverted onto Sunny Hillside Road. For those unfamiliar with Benton, the word "hillside" is in the road's name for a very good reason. I imagined what I would have been thinking had I been the driver of the "18-wheeler" that was directly behind me. I would love to hear the story of his experiences after he turned at that point.
I turned off Sunny Hillside Road at Rod Pennington's house and went up over the hill, beside the cemetery, and down to Route 239, then turned left thinking that my "off-the-route" journey would get me into the borough. Foiled again. The bridge over Fishing Creek was closed. A worried Buster, Chloe and I were surrounded by flooding water. I was a quarter mile from the safety of the house but what seemed like an eternity away from where I wanted to be.
Ignoring the wisdom of a local fireman who told me not to venture onto the concrete structure, I left the dogs in the parked Jeep on the highest ground I could find (the TasteeCreme parking lot) and walked toward the house to assess the situation. Water was a foot and a half deep on Two and a Half Street, which I crossed without much difficulty, then threaded my way to Market and stepped off the curb. The water was above my knees and flowing at least 15 miles an hour. My steps across the street were slower than one of my "slow dances" from high school, but I made it. Don and Loraine Foote, faced with a mandatory evacuation order from their McHenry Alley home, greeted me from the front porch.
Panic set in. The dogs needed to be home. I retraced my steps to the car and some very happy dogs and I started for the house. The dogs quickly raced across the bridge, not at all liking the spray that was being kicked up from the raging water hitting the underside of the bridge. We made it to Two and a Half Street, which was carrying as much water as Fishing Creek carried just days before. I slid my feet about two inches at a time and we crossed the street, cut behind Dr. Kowalski's office and over his fence, then headed toward Market Street--a virtual Susquehanna River of running water. I looked toward Main Street and decided that I would try crossing the street just as soon as Roger English's wood supply and an H & K propane tank floated by.
Halfway across, I realized that I was not going to make it to the other side. If I fell, if one of those trees or some of that cut-up firewood ran into me, the dogs would end up in West Creek before I could right myself. From somewhere, two volunteer firemen jumped into the water and carried the dogs to the safety of the front porch. Water at that point was often to my waist--on a street where just an hour before I had driven the Jeep.
News in the borough was not good. I learned that Elk Grove Road in Sugarloaf Township from Central to the Sullivan County line was closed and a school bus was stranded in Central with a dozen students aboard. Fire trucks had been moved out of the firehouse to positions at Strevig's Restaurant North of the borough and to Steve Shannon's Tire Store South of the borough. Emergency personnel headed north.
What was going on? This isn't "Fair Week." We shouldn't be having weather like this. And you say Hurricane Maria is now threatening the United States? Send it toward Texas. God knows they need the rain. We don't.
I went back to the front porch. The smell of fuel oil was everywhere. The oil was very visible as it floated on top of the water. How could fish survive this situation, I wondered. Water was now up to my second step at the entrance to the house. Good grief! It was a mere six inches from coming onto the first floor. I started taking up computers--Benton didn't have internet service anyway--carpet and furniture and moving them to the second floor. I opened the basement door and saw brown water lapping one inch from the ceiling. Good grief, I thought, electricity is on at the circuit breaker for the top floors of the house and the panel is completely under water. No chance to fix that now. I'll just have to hope that the house doesn't catch on fire.
Smells of smoke coming from the Hess Hotel on Main Street and a leaking fuel-oil tank prompted emergency personnel to close the building overnight. All residents had to find overnight lodging elsewhere. Dennie Dawson at the Old Filling Station worried about losses from the flooding.
About 10 PM, an electrical fire did break out on upper Main Street from an underwater circuit breaker box. There won't be any sleeping in my house tonight, I thought.
I posted pictures of the flood as I saw it. You can see these pictures as a slideshow by going here and can be downloaded, copied and printed from here . Check the Benton News for additional pictures taken by the light of day on Thursday.
Property owners from out of town have asked me to check on their properties. Please understand that even as I type this at 4:30 in the morning the water covers many sidewalks in Benton. I am not able to get more than a block from this house. My perspective of the flood is from this vantage point only. Because Frontier Communications lost its internet service, I can't get pictures and post them that others have taken. (I am sending this via my cell phone using Verizon).
It is now 5 AM. Water is actually higher at the moment than it was at 11 PM last night. Rain continues to fall. The "town water" has been cut off ("Water, water, everywhere, but not one drop to drink"). The major food supply in the borough is watermelon, as hundreds of them coming floating through--probably from one of Farmer Moofie's fields. Reports are that some in the area have had 13 inches of rain. There are horror stories about devistation around Stoney Acres Nursery. WNEP projections are that the river will crest at 31.5 feet in Bloomsburg. I-80 is closed near Buckhorn between Lightstreet and Danville. This is not going to be a nice day. Please keep Benton and Northeast Pennsylvania in your prayers in the coming days.
September 9, 2011In these days of water, water everywhere, one needs a little humor. Here is an example of a "little" humor that I remember hearing many years ago on the Milton Berle show. It was a bit racy, and that may be why I remember it.Milton Berle was also the man who said that his brother would get drunk on water--as well as on land!
The local situation Wednesday and Thursday was enough to make one want to have a drink. At three Thursday morning, I first realized that the borough had no water for drinking. Several stories made the rounds Thursday, but Mayor Swan said last night that a number of people had pipes in their basements burst when surface water began to run into their basements. No one realized that individual pipes had broken until basements were pumped out and water kept running. When the source of the problem was identified, water was turned off to certain houses and by Thursday afternoon "limited" water was available. Please be considerate in water usage until full service can be restored.and can be downloaded, copied and printed here. The Thrift Shop operated by the Community Center had a little water on its floor. It will reopen Saturday, but needs several electric fans to borrow to dry out some carpeting. Call Diane Laubach, 925-5199, if you can loan a fan or two.
A temporary shelter has been opened at the Northern Columbia Community & Cultural Center, Benton, to assist residents forced from their homes who cannot reach other shelters due to flooding. The shelter was opened by The Center and operated by volunteers. Food for those without food is being supplied by the Food Bank. Volunteers will provide warm food for those in need. The Center offers an overnight place to stay. Call 925-0163 for additional information. The Center opens at 6 AM today.
As a courtesy to readers of the Press Enterprise who are unable to receive their copy of the newspaper through normal delivery, the online edition for Thursday and Friday and the weekend are available free to all visitors by clicking on www.pressenterpriseonline.com/ . This is another example of neighbor helping neighbor in this time of need.
Monday's Fishingcreek Watershed Association meeting has been postponed until Monday, October 10, at 7 PM.
Quickies (this is an update from what was posted Friday afternoon)...• For basement-pumping details, contact the Benton Fire Company at 925-2020. As of 2 PM Friday, basements of 83 residences have been pumped.
• Bottled water is available for distribution at The Center, Community Drive, Benton.
• Benton borough is under a "boil water advisory" until further notice.
• A community dumpster is now in location at the firehouse.
• Potable water is available at The Center, Community Drive. Water for toilets and water for drinking are available, but you must bring your own container.
• Both Benton park and Benton dam are closed until further notice. Please stay out of these areas. Park Street between Market and Route 487 is closed as repairs to the dike are made.
• The sewer in the borough is operational, but for those who need bathroom facilities, there are portable toilets at the following location:
] • Steve Shannon Tire Store
• The Coin Shop at the corner of Main and Market Streets
• Sutliff Motors, Main Street
• Showers are available at the following three locations: Berwick High School; Camp Wanna-Ruff-It (8 AM to 10 PM) , Pine Road, Fishing Creek Township; and Ricketts Glen State Park, two locations, 24 hours a day.
• The Benton News, WNEP-16, the Press Enterprise and WHLM radio will provide updates to flood-emergency information.
• There are so many water leaks in town that the water department can't get the pressure built back up. There are still many water leaks in basements in the borough from water lines inside homes. The bottom line is that it isn't known when water pressure can be restored until the source of the leaks are identified. At the moment, the water level in the reservoir is at the two-foot level--and it is a 30-foot tank. The sooner that people report the leaks that they have the sooner the water will come on. Call John Watson at 490-1453 or Chris Letteer at 204-9488 to report leaks. If you live adjacent to a house that is not currently occupied, please call one of these two numbers and the meter will promptly be looked at to see if water is running. Think it would not happen in your block? Think again. A house adjacent to mine had two hot-water heaters that broke loose and ruined the plumbing. Water spewed everywhere. Hot water heaters were replaced Friday. On the other side of my house, a commercial building had not been checked by dark Friday night and its basement was full of water. Please help. We need water!
• Benton Borough Emergency Management is actively working with county, state and local officials along with the National Guard, PEMA and fire and EMS to meet the needs of the community during this time of disaster.
• If anyone is willing to donate cleaning supplies for people, please drop them off at The Center.
• Evacuation information will be located at The Center and will be provided by the Benton News.
• Dan Jankowski is the Benton Borough Emergency Management Coordinator.
September 10, 2011
The Benton Argus in its edition of September 10, 1964, showed the Benton Dam completely devoid of water. According to the picture, a person could have walked across the inside of the dam from end to end without getting a drop of water on his feet. What a different September--and summer--we are having this year.
September 11, 2011In yesterday's edition, the question was asked about getting rid of mildew. A reader from Hughesville suggested using baking soda and Green Works. A Benton resident suggested a 50/50 water/Clorox solution sprayed from a spray bottle on every surface in the basement. She cautioned that FEMA maintains that "a 10% solution is sufficient." Joe Goode found an excellent site to learn about cleaning up following a flood: www.floodsafety.com/national/property/cleanup/ .
A sure way to scare someone half to death is to blow a siren at quarter of two in the morning and then repeat it in a few minutes. That is what happened Saturday morning. County officials were warned of a flash flood heading toward Benton with three inches of rain associated with it. The storm did hit south of our area and one resident lost three cars as a result of the storm. Another measured almost three inches of rain. Luckily, the storm didn't hit the local area--which is a good thing, since I only saw three houses with lights on following the sounding of the alarm. Add chance of a flash flood must be taken very seriously now that there is a break in the dyke system along Fishing Creek (see the "Clean-Up" pictures) mentioned earlier.
Rain and snow totals from the latest storm--usually taken around 7 AM each morning--are what Frank Gough loves to do. During the September 2011 storm, Raven Creek in Frank's back yard was the highest he had ever seen it. Totals for the week:Monday 0.91Tuesday 2.37Wednesday 6.31Thursday 0.06Derrs area (she is four miles from Benton toward Derrs), she received a total of 16.7" of rain from Sunday morning through Thursday evening! They received 5.1" overnight Wednesday night into Thursday with additional amounts on Thursday. She added, "What a mess!"
Arey's Building Supply, Wysox, got 16 inches of water throughout the entire property and ruined office records, equipment and computers.
The Sonestown Legion is a drop off point for clothing and items for the flood victims in that area. That area remains without power.
Dale Ruckle, Plano, Texas, has trouble making sense of the weather. He wrote that his sister's house in Bloomsburg has 3, 4 or 5 feet of water while his neighbors in Texas are having their houses burned down by the hundreds. Dale's "thoughts are with all the people in Columbia County and hope that some form of normality will return soon."As to what to call the September 2011 storm, one reader from California suggested calling it the "2011 Wedge Storm."for the wedding reception of hurricane Lee and Tropical Storm Katia. He adds that it is "too bad all that wedded bliss left us with a messy hangover."
The War Museum, Sonestown, took a huge hit. According to Jack Craft, it was "the worse flood we have ever had here." The staff got a great deal up before the storm hit. About a foot of water was on the floor in the museum and there was a lot of mud. The museum "will be back, but it will take awhile." An estimated ten houses were condemned in Sonestown Saturday.
We get confused when people equate the September 2011 storm with Hurricane Agnes which did considerable damage to the Wyoming and Susquehanna Valley. Hurricane Eloise was much worse locally than Agnes, but this storm topped both of them.
• Those residents in need of disaster assistance are encouraged to go to PEMA’s website .
September 12, 2011Jim Laubach provided the following railroad report. The Reading & Northern Railroad got all its equipment in Pittston out before the flood got worse and moved it to higher ground on the Scranton branch and Dunmore line. A first inspection of the line to Charmin revealed only a few washouts. Approximately five feet of water rushed through the Vosburg tunnel four and a half miles northwest of Tunkhannock with one of the worse washouts at the exit. The entire Lehigh Railroad from Charmin to Sayre was under water and at least six locomotives damaged. North Shore Railroad was completely under water, with the extent of damage unknown. The Reading Railroad bridge over the Loyalsock in Montoursville was washed out, but was shaky before the flood and due to be repaired. A replacement may now be necessary. The Lehigh Valley Railroad can still get into Williamsport over the former Pennsylvania Railroad bridge at Newberry
Fallowbrook Road is the only closed road currently in Sugarloaf Township.
• The Stillwater Christian Church will have a free clothing giveaway today from 10 AM to 3 PM. The Benton Christian Church will collect used clothing which is in good condition and in any size for distribution to those in need. Please place any clothes you want to donate on the back pew of the Church Street Benton Christian Church.
• The laundromat on Market Street is open for business during the hours when water is turned on to the borough.
• Gasoline is currently available at the Hess Market, Orangeville, Red Rock Corner Store and Bear Fuel, Route 118. Fuel is not available at the Dandy Market, Route 118, or at Acorn Market or Unit-Mart, Benton.
• The Center, Community Drive, has free food and cleaning supplies as well as water. Dumpsters are available at the fire station. The Allenwood Landfill decided to close for the weekend and trash haulers had no place to take the items collected.
• For Columbia County residents: If you think that you may have well- or township-water contamination or any kind of property contamination, including oil and/or sewage, please report it to the Department of Environmental Protection and get instruction immediately. Call 570 327-3636 and a truck will be dispatched with test kits and a special pump detail.For Sullivan County readers, dMake checks to American Legion Post 601 Flood Victims, 1433 Champion Hill Rd., Muncy Valley, PA 17758-5242.There are many people and organizations who deserve great credit for their responsiveness in the aftermath of the September 2011 storm that devastated the northern part of Columbia County. But with all events of this nature, it is important to reflect on what took place as insurance that when something like this happens in the future some of what could have been prevented doesn't take place again. The following is in that spirit. There is no criticism intended. The observations are divided into "should have," "could have" and "done well."
Should have done better list...
• When flood information was prepared, it was distributed to thePress Enterprise, WNEP and WHLM--three excellent sources of information about the flood. After I yelled about the lack of available information, a copy was given to me to distribute on the Benton News. A copy was posted in the post office, at the fire hall and at The Center--but that was after the water had gone down far enough that people could get to those locations.
• When the evacuation order was given to selected parts of the borough, there was no plan available to residents. Those who raced to the fire hall to see what was really meant by evacuation, no one knew. Firemen issued evacuation orders but didn't know where people were to go. There was no plan, no evacuation route, no evacuation area--at least to the firemen who were issuing the order. Some remembered that from a previous emergency residents were to go the Waller Community Hall, but were not sure if that was what was to be done this time.
• A number of people who were told to evacuate refused to go. The result was that first responders were then placed in danger when firemen had to yank them out only minutes later.
• The community needs to be refreshed on the meaning of the emergency sirens that sounded twice in the past week. Yes, that information is posted in the post office. Yes, we should know what to do when these sirens sound. We don't! When that alarm sounded for the second time only minutes after the first, did that mean double trouble, something like a two-alarm fire? When that information is more readily available, we need to read and understand it.
• An emergency plan for the borough needs to be drawn up, carefully looked at, and distributed to all residents. The plan needs to be reviewed on an established time frame and updated as needed.
Could have done better list...
• The Benton Area Schools dismissed students in the middle of a thunder and lightning storm with flooding eminent. Many children went home to empty houses. A phone call was made by the school to houses of the children, but if no one was home the call simply went unanswered or left to voice mail. There were frightened children who wanted their parents because of the situation, but their parents could not return to Benton because the bridge over Fishing Creek was closed or the roads over which they had to travel were washed out. Some parents had instructed their children to go to The Center in case of an emergency, but with a flood of this proportion, even that is in need of a look. Community Drive had far too much water running for even an adult to walk. There was no plan in place as to what to do with children in a situation like this. There are some children that simply should not be allowed to leave school if there is no one to safeguard them during an emergency of this nature.
Done very well...
• The Community Center rose to the occasion and acted as a valuable community asset for the provision of food, shelter, water and information. Deserving special mention is Lucie Barone, a spark plug for the O.A.T.S. festival, who has turned her attention to helping her community by volunteering at The Center.
• Paul Shaffer's crew of workers who did the best possible job of shuttling flood debris from the fire station. This group was hampered over the weekend by Allenwood closing their doors to haulers from late Saturday through Sunday.
• Hand in glove with the needs of the community were the tireless volunteers of the Benton Volunteer Fire Company and the fire companies which came to our assistance. They provided a location for the dumpsters, distributed information as it was provided to them, pumped basements, fought a couple of fires and responded to some "smells and bells."
• The tankers of water, the portable toilets at three locations, the bottled water, cleaning supplies and MREs distributed by The Center were wonderful.
The borough just went through a natural disaster, but there was some dumb luck that the situation was not much worse. It cannot be allowed to happen again.
There is a gaping hole in our dike. There is high potential for flooding in the borough until this is repaired. Yes, work will begin this morning to keep us safe, but remember we are three centuries ahead of our hundred-year floods. We now must take the work to be done very seriously.
Videos from the September 2011 Flood in Pennsylvania follow:
Water over 487, just north of Orangeville National Guard Rescue, Bloomsburg Northeastern Pennsylvaia Bloomsburg Fair Bloomsburg Airport Knoebels Grove Second Knoebels Grove Video Flood Pictures of Danville Flood Pictures of Central Pennsylvania
September 13, 2011
A reader asked "if the students, whose schools have been closed due to flooding, will have to make up the days missed since the county has been named as a disaster area? There are many schools in the area affected." The answer will come from the school when it is known when school will resume. At the moment, the problem is that there is no electrical power at the high school. The elementary school is in pretty good shape. Electrical crews continue to work "all day, every day."The code requires that school must end by June 30. Any day that can be made up by that time is supposed to be made up.
The National Guard delivered cleaning supplies to the Borough Tuesday morning. The items can be picked up at The Center. They include mops, brooms, food, toilet paper and paper towels. Ninety-three cleaning bucket kits were delivered and are available to residents at The Center.
Hungry? The Old Filling Station and the Sub Shop opened for business Tuesday. A floor is being replaced at the Kozy Korner.The Bloomsburg Fair Association is pleading for volunteers to help with the clean-up efforts at the fairgrounds. Flood waters hit the fairgrounds at a depth of 10 to 12 feet leaving behind the brown mud we know so well in Benton. A picture in the latest photo galley of the Benton News shows a deer that got caught up in the flood and floated into Bloomsburg and ended up ten feet in the air on top of the roof of a shelter near the gate five of the fairgrounds The Fair office had three and a half feet of water. There is no phone service, no computers. The 157th Bloomsburg Fair is scheduled to begin September 24. If you can help out in any way, please stop by the fairgrounds at 620 West Third Street, Bloomsburg. The September 13 edition of the Press Enterprise indicates how serious the situation is: i.e., "A decision on staging the event is now expected by 6 PM Wednesday." The possibility of not having a Bloomsburg Fair is very real.
Unlike the Sullivan County Fair, the fair has never been canceled during its century-and-a-half history. The Forksville Fair was cancelled in 1944 because of an epidemic of Infantile Paralysis.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Tuesday that federal aid will be made available to Pennsylvania in designated counties affected by Tropical Storm Lee. Federal funding will be made available to affected individuals in Bradford, Columbia, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Sullivan and counties outside of our immediate area. The following aid programs can be made available as needed and if warranted:
• Rental payments for temporary housing for those whose homes are unlivable. Assistance can be provided for two months for both homeowners and renters and may be extended following additional review.
• Grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional.
• Grants to replace personal property. Grants for serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or federal, state and charitable-aid programs.
• Unemployment payments up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and who do not qualify for state benefits.
• Low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance; i.e., loans up to $200,000 for primary residence, $40,000 for personal property, up to $2 million for business property losses not fully compensated by insurance.
• Loans up to $2 million for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, non-profit organizations.
• Loans up to $500,000 for farmers to cover production and property losses, excluding primary residence.
• Crisis counseling for those traumatized by the disaster; income tax assistance for filing casualty losses; advisory assistance for legal, veterans benefits and social-security matters.
• Assistance for state and local governments can include payment of not more than 75% of the approved costs for hazard mitigation projects.
If you had a loss in one of the designated counties, register online or by calling 800 621-FEMA (3362) from 7 AM to 10 PM (local time) seven days a week until further notice.
FEMA forms should be filled out locally to document losses.
• Benton Township Residents: Go to the Township Building between the hours of 7 and 3 and pick up a form, fill it out and return to the Township. Terrie Adams will help fill out the form if you visit between the hours of 11 and 3 PM. The Benton Township phone is 925-6166.
• Sugarloaf Township Residents: Terrie Adams will be at the Township Building from 6:30 AM to 10:30 AM. Residents can also call 925-6031 and a form will be left on the door for them to fill out.
• Fishing Creek Township Residents: Call 925-9201 for instructions.
For those who need to fill out EMA paperwork for flood damage, please contact Rep. Millard or Senator Gordner’s office first before going there, as they are experiencing high volume traffic in the area. The numbers to call are 387-0246 or 784-3464.
September 15, 2011
The headline of the day has to be that The 157th Bloomsburg Fair, scheduled to begin September 24, has been cancelled for 2011, according to a statement posted on the fair's Facebook page. The statement says that the board of directors, after "careful consideration," has decided to cancel the fair. The fairgrounds was hit by extensive flooding of the Susquehanna River last week. Where the Susquehanna crested at 32.75 feet at Bloomsburg, breaking a record set in 1904, officials reported 1,000 buildings with damage and that figure could go higher. Channel-16 videos of the clean-up at the Fair are here.Tropical Storm Lee will be the yardstick by which future storms are measured in Columbia County and very well could end up being designated as a "500-year flood," meaning there is a 0.2 percent chance that a flood of that magnitude can occur in any given year. A 100-year flood means there is a 1% chance a flood may occur in any given year.People living in a 100-year flood plain must have flood insurance if they have a mortgage on their property. The insurance is optional if there is no mortgage on the property. If you live in a 500-year flood plain, you do not need flood insurance even if you have a mortgage.
The Thrift Shop on Mill Street had minor water damage to carpeting. Nothing that is being sold was directly exposed to water. In order to clear things out of the building so the carpeting can be dried, everything in the shop is available by donation only. Ignore the prices; make a suitable donation and the item will be yours. Please stop by soon.The watermelons and cantaloupes that were tumbling down the streets in Benton are not safe to eat. It is also possible that the ones sold at farmer's markets came in contact with flood waters and are not safe to eat, according to Penn State nutrition education advisor, Memie Christie. The Food and Drug Administration advises that "if the edible portion of a crop is exposed to flood waters, it is considered adulterated and should not enter human-food channels. There is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide a reasonable assurance of human food safety." Fresh fruits and vegetables that have been exposed to flood waters should be destroyed. as well as fresh fruits and vegetables that have begun to spoil due to the lack of refrigeration.Because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized, discard cardboard juice, milk and baby-formula boxes and home-canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water.
It is also a good policy not to drink, bathe or wash dishes with well or spring water until it is tested or sanitized.
There are cases of bottled water and meal kits available at the Fishing Creek Township building. Residents can stop by anytime.
The Mill Race Golf Resort has three holes--10, 11 and 12--closed until further notice. The course is running specials for golf of $20 for golf and cart on Monday through Friday and $25 for golf and cart on weekends and holidays. Everyone can play 18 holes by picking up three holes and redoing them. Call 925-2040 to reserve your starting time.
Someone asked about the size of Benton. Heck, our small town is so small it isn't even a town. We once had a boxing match at the Farmer's Picnic and both opponents had to sit in the same corner. We once had an operator who placed all the incoming and outgoing phone calls. She told Mother that a party Mother was calling wasn't home because she couldn't see the car in the driveway. Main Street used to have trees on both sides and in order to paint a white line down the middle of the road, PennDOT had to widen the street. Here is a story to show how small Benton is...
Wednesday eight ladies gathered in the back room at "Becky's" to play bridge. "Becky's" is the way women in town refer to the Sub Shop. Becky had an electrician coming at 2 PM to replace a circuit breaker that met its "Waterloo" during the flood and the restaurant closed for the balance of the day. When two o'clock arrived and the restaurant prepared to close, Becky brought out some pie and told the card group to stay in the restaurant and play as long as they wanted. She told them to simply walk over by the windows where they would have a view of the creek and they would have the whole restaurant to themselves. Zane Unbewust recalls that Becky said "now when you are ready, you all just come out the back door and lock up." The "girls" played until 4:30. Zane asked, "now how many places can you find that?" She paused for a second, then came out with a true small-town remark, "God love her!"The office of First Columbia Bank at 1010 South Market Street, Bloomsburg, will be closed until further notice.If you have a private well, shock chlorination (disinfection) is recommended following contamination by flood water. Shock chlorination is recommended in these circumstances to ensure that bacterial contamination is controlled. Learn more at www.water-research.net/shockwelldisinfection.htm .
September 18, 2011In response to the worst flooding in the area in 100 + years, First Columbia Bank & Trust Co. announced it has donated a total of $100,000 to area organizations to help with flood relief efforts locally. The American Red Cross Disaster Relief for local communities, AGAPE and the Salvation Army were the recipients. First Columbia has also initiated special-loan programs to help local flood victims during this crisis. These loan programs are available for homeowners, renters and business owners affected by the recent flooding. All loan programs are subject to credit approval.An excellent site for pictures of the September 2011 Flood is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IxnLmCAwZI&sns=fb and for flood pictures around Williamsport at
Here is the situation at PPL’s environmental preserves as affected by the flooding:
The recreation area and wetlands Susquehanna Riverlands, near Berwick, on both the east and west banks of the Susquehanna, will remain closed until further notice due to the recent flooding. PPL will assess conditions daily as the facility restores electricity and water. Park facilities will be reopened when conditions are safe for the public.
The Susquehanna Energy Information Center on Route 11 remains open during the week. Programs at the information center will be held as scheduled. Call 866 832-3312 for further information.
The picnic areas are open for use at Montour Environmental Preserve, northeast of Washingtonville. Lake Chillisquaque has returned to normal operating level and is open to public recreation, including boating and fishing. Some trails remain closed until damage caused by the recent flooding can be repaired. Call 570 437-3131 for further information.
Dumpsters in Benton Borough for borough residents are located at the municipal parking lot, near the old Milco plant and at the firehall. Everyone is overloading the one at the firehall, and the others are not being used.
September 20, 2011
Residents of the borough of Benton recognize that they came through the September 2011 flood much better than residents of Sonestown, Shickshinny, Bloomsburg and many other communities in the Commonwealth. During Hurricane Agnes in June 1972, the Susquehanna crested at 40.9 feet in Wilkes-Barre. Tropical Depression Lee--which never made it to hurricane status--exceeded that depth, raising water to 42.6 feet.
Sure, there were basements in the borough that were a mess and remain a mess more than a week after the flood, but there were a minimum number of cases where water actually rose into the main living areas of houses, and only a few cases where the flood made a permanent residence uninhabitable. Many area roads are in shambles and some bridges are suspect as to whether they can be saved. But all in all, contrast our condition with that with some of our surrounding communities and we were most fortunate.
Borough President, O. Grant Little points out that "current yearly rainfall totals for our area exceed the yearly averages by 25-35 inches!" The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee "dumped more than 10” of water on our already saturated area in 48 hours, producing the worst flooding of Benton" in the memory of any resident. Grant's unofficial observation was that this flood was approximately 16” higher than any previous flood in his lifetime.
Benton Borough put an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) into effect in 2006. The plan was updated one month ago to include community-assessment information. Community-assessment forms were mailed to residents asking if they would be willing to help during an emergency. This plan follows guidance from FEMA and PEMA and has been approved by borough council and County EMA. As part of that plan, there is a specific plan concerning flooding in the borough which has been fine tuned following each flood or near miss since 2006. This plan is classified by PEMA as "FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY" and therefore is not distributed to the public as it contains personal and sensitive information. Releasing this information would be a violation of privacy and a security risk.
Dan Jankowski is the borough EMA coordinator, but had a personal family emergency that required him to temporarily release his responsibility to Deputy EMA Coordinator, James Albertson. Jim notes that the "flood plan was followed to the T during this incident and is the foundation behind directing the fire company as to which areas of town to evacuate first, where to send them and establishing incident command."
Jim had incident command from 1:30 PM Wednesday when the flood was eminent through 2 PM Thursday--24 hours of tense decision making. Benton's command post and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was established at the Benton Township Building. Jim manned three radios and four telephones. All information and incidents in Benton's coverage area were passed through the EOC. He was in constant communication with Benton borough officials, the mayor, County EMA, the 911 Center, along with local fire, EMS and police chiefs. Emergency responders who needed to know who was in charge, "knew very well and the incident-command structure as designed by FEMA was followed."
Personnel at the EOC knew what they were doing. They knew where it would flood first, who needed evacuated first, who the vulnerable persons with medical needs were, and that fire trucks and ambulances needed to be positioned above and below town to prevent them from being trapped in town.
Some people were told to evacuate, but refused to go. The EOC then received multiple calls during the night when the water was its highest from the people who had refused to evacuate. They suddenly wanted to be evacuated, but the fire company could not get to them. A rescue-boat response was considered, but both Bloomsburg's boat and Berwick's hoovercraft concluded that the water current was too swift. The EOC then called for a national-guard helicopter to make a rescue, but even they couldn't fly during the storm.
People need to get out when they're told to evacuate--or even before. Based on watches and warnings from the national-weather service, residents need to be aware and make their own preparations without placing emergency responders in a life-threatening situation.
Even before the evacuation siren was sounded, arrangements had already been made for the primary-evacuation site (Waller church) to be opened and manned. The command center received word part way through evacuations that the basement of that church had flooded and was unusable. Most routes out of the borough were blocked by water by this time.
Strevigs Restaurant opened its doors as a makeshift evacuation center with the overflow sent to the EOC at the Benton Township building. Most residents found their own place to go when they left. When it stopped raining, only a total of 20 evacuees took shelter in the designated locations.
In 2010, Benton Borough inserted in individual tax notices a letter to all residents that explained the Early Warning Alert Siren. This letter explained the possible scenarios for use of the siren. This notification was meant to be read and kept by all residents in case the siren was used. The information about the siren was posted as an emergency-information bulletin at the post office with the objective that residents take the initiative to be aware. The EOC activated the siren Friday morning at 1:45 AM to warn people that the National Weather Service had issued a flood warning of a possible 2-3 inches in the next hour. The rainfall amounts were correct, but the storm missed the borough. Had this rain touched down in Benton, it would have spelled disaster all over again.
After the flooding subsided, the EMA coordinator for Benton Borough, Dan Jankowksi, took over operations and requested resources of porta-potties, water tankers, bottled water and food from County EMA. County supplied all requested items and Dan established the distribution center at the community center--the only public building that did not sustain major damages. The community center did not get any water inside the building and sustained no damages, other than soil and road erosion. The emergency operations plan lists the fire hall as the primary-distribution center, but it could not be used due to water damage. An emergency hotline, 925-0001, was established to provide residents with emergency information. Dan requested dumpsters for residents and through Saturday morning more than 30 loaded dumsters had been hauled out of Benton.
The EOC did not use the Benton News to provide emergency information. Their reasoning was that the information "needs to be accurate and current." Writing for the EOC, Jim Albertson said that "things happen fast and information needs to be updated very quickly. People need to be paying attention to their media outlets for information not only from the Borough EMA, but also County EMA, PEMA, and the weather service." Jim maintained that the Benton News "does not provide all that information in one place such as WNEP or Press Enterprise. When things get hectic, we need to hit the major sources and move on to the next task."
The Benton News published verifiable information on its website in real time. All factual and verifiable information which affects the local area will continue to be published by the Benton News.
The word did seem to get out because people showed up in force to collect their free food and water at the community center and to fill up multiple dumpsters at the fire hall.
Benton Borough received praise from County EMA as having one of the very few Emergency Management programs that is taken seriously and has also received praise for handling the emergencies that have occurred since the 2006 flood. Jim notes that "The weight is extremely heavy considering Benton Borough also is the source for aid and information for people living in the surrounding areas."
Jim considers the operation a success in that there were no fatalities. The plan that Dan Jankowski authored was "very useful and provided the fire company guidance in how to handle what was arguably the most severe natural disaster the area has encountered." Mayor Swan called Dan the "best EMA coordinator the Borough has ever had" and Borough President Grant Little concurred.
The EOC will have a critique with the major players involved in the following weeks and will make adjustments to the emergency plans as they have done in the past.
It will take the support of everyone in the upper Fishing Creek valley to solve the problems of flooding. Streams are plugged, sand bars retard the flow of water, regulations preclude getting into the streams and opening them up. Several people are working on draft letters to congressmen and senators asking for a relaxation of rules relating to stream clean-out. We'll talk more on this subject soon.