No one can dispute the fact that the hard-working people of central and eastern Pennsylvania are a resilient bunch.
Just about a year ago, the state endured three flood events over a five-week period and after Tropical Storm Lee pounded this region with powerful winds and driving rain, the Susquehanna River rose to dangerous levels, reminiscent of Hurricane Agnes four decades earlier. The flood threat in 2011 was especially traumatic for those in the Wyoming Valley, which suffered the brunt of Agnes' wrath.
A year ago, citizens living in communities along the mighty river found themselves under evacuation orders. "Potentially Catastrophic" and "Valley at Risk," Wilkes-Barre newspaper headlines ominously warned. Thanks to an improved levee system protecting the city and other surrounding communities, however, last year's losses in the Wyoming Valley were much less than in 1972. The unprotected communities living along the river, however, were not spared from last year's flooding.
In the wake of the storms a year ago, 44 of 67 counties issued emergency declarations, 1.3 million residents lost power, and 559 state roads and 145 bridges were closed. No place suffered more than the Bloomsburg area in Columbia County. Since the fairgrounds were under water, the fair was forced to cancel for the first time in 157 years.
The cleanup was massive. Restoring the fairgrounds cost $2.5 million, including $300,000 in drainage work. Fences had to be repaired along the race track as well as many structures, including barns, stables, the grandstand and bleachers.
Last week, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley got a firsthand look at the makeover.
"I am here to celebrate the rebirth of the Bloomsburg Fair. Today, the fairgrounds are bustling with activity, but it was a very different picture last year," said Cawley.
He added that the state's recovery from last year's floods is an ongoing success story as leaders "continue to work together to rebuild and prepare for the future."
As for Bloomsburg's immediate future, the fair is scheduled for Sept. 22-29. To recoup some of the losses from last year's damages, tickets have increased from $5 to $8 but the fair is back, thanks in large part to the coordination of local and state officials.
The determined efforts of local volunteers, including a number of church groups, have also been key. This concerted effort has helped Bloomsburg and its fair rise from the ashes or in this case, from the mud of 2011.
By Jim Zbick