From the paralyzing, record-breaking snowfalls of last winter to the ravages of two strong storm systems within the last two weeks, this year has seen one record-making disaster after another.
Each time, the threat hits closer to home.
Residents in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions have been slowly recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irene and now the torrential rains of Tropical Storm Lee are adding to the misery. As we write this, residents of Wilkes-Barre and other towns up and down the length of the Susquehanna River are bracing for the worst flooding since Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
Today's rainfall amounts are crucial, especially in the New York state region and points north of Wyoming Valley, where streams feed into the Susquehanna. Wilkes-Barre is protected by a levee system with 41-foot walls. As of this morning, forecasters were expecting the river to crest just below that figure but the severity of flooding will depend on how much more rain falls today from the slow-moving system.
After experiencing Hurricane Agnes nearly four decades ago, we never thought we would hear the ominous words "mandatory evacuations" again. But this morning, that's what officials in the Wyoming Valley were ordering. A total of 65,000 – all of the areas affected by Agnes – have been ordered to evacuate by 8 p.m. The evacuations began in low-lying areas last night.
The banners in today's Citizens' Voice newspaper are certainly ominous and foreboding for the Luzerne County communities along the Susquehanna: "Potentially Catastrophic" and "Valley at Risk," the headlines warn.
After Hurricane Agnes nearly four decades ago, the resilient people of the Wyoming Valley overcame a catastrophic situation and the area became known as "The Valley With A Heart."
Two weeks ago, many of those same residents were left reeling by a hurricane packing powerful winds and driving rains. And now, days of continuous rain have raised the Susquehanna to a dangerous level.
Once again, anxious Wyoming Valley residents, many of whom experienced the suffering of Hurricane Agnes, have their eyes on the swollen river, and the levee system that protects them.
By Jim Zbick