Press And Journal Photo by Debra Schell- James Snook kisses his daughter, Kerri Twaddell, Friday afternoon as they picked through what was left of his home on Few Avenue in Middletown.
In flood’s wake, a mountain of trashed memories
By Jim Lewis and Debra Schell
Press And Journal Staff
The floodwaters have receded, leaving its destruction behind. Piles of mud-stained paneling, sofas, carpeting and lattice, and stacks of green garbage bags line curbs and fill yards.
A sweet sickly stench rises from mud-covered floors.
James Snook can barely recognize his Few Avenue house. The drywall had to be removed, ruined furniture and other possessions had to be piled on the front lawn. He has adopted a post-flood mantra to get through the dread of cleaning out his home:
“In case of doubt, throw it out,’’ said Snook. “The stuff you think you need, if you don’t have it, you don’t need it.’’
Residents in Middletown, Highspire, Royalton, Lower Swatara Twp., Londonderry Twp. and other local towns and townships were making the same assessment of their belongings after flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee sent streams and the Susquehanna River over their banks on Thursday, Sept. 8.
Residents and business owners began the monumental task of rebuilding, gutting homes and stores with a steely focus, unwilling to entertain thoughts of fatigue. Lee dumped 13.3 inches of rain on Middletown from Sunday, Sept. 4 to Thursday, Sept. 8, sending the Swatara Creek to a record high and the Susquehanna River well over its flood level, according to the National Weather Service.
Nineteen counties in central Pennsylvania, including Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York, were declared a federal disaster area by President Barack Obama, allowing residents and business owners to get federal money to pay for temporary housing, home repairs and loans to restore uninsured or underinsured property.
Middletown has about $3 million in borough funds available to rebuild damaged borough assets, said council President Mary Hiester. It will cost about $1 million to repair the Mill Street substation, which was flooded. The borough is getting all its electricity from a second substation, but that substation can’t handle Middletown’s demand for electricity in the winter, borough officials said. The borough does have some insurance to cover borough losses.
Volunteers poured in to help restore houses and lend a hand however they could.
On Swatara Creek Road in Londonderry Twp., a neighborhood hit hard by flooding from the nearby Swatara Creek, one volunteer travels from State College to help; others come from nearby churches, schools, Scout troops and service groups.
“These people are truly amazing, giving of themselves when they could be at home watching a football game or being with their families,’’ said Daryl LeHew, a Londonderry supervisor. “We have people living here who don’t have family, are elderly and have health conditions, and they would be in this alone otherwise.’’
Schools opened in Middletown on Wednesday, Sept. 14, and a boil-water advisory was lifted the next day.
Counselors were available at Middletown schools to help kids deal with the flood.
At a Red Cross shelter in the Church of God in Middletown, 4-year-old Aiden Vandergrift sings songs with Christine Porter, administrator of the Middletown Public Library, who arrives nightly to entertain children who had to flee their homes. He effervescently signs “The Wheels on the Bus’’ with Porter, but when she sings the first few stanzas of a song about the ocean, he protests.
“He asked why we weren’t home,’’ said Heather Negron, his aunt and guardian. Her reply: “Because of the water from the creek. You know, the creek where we skip stones?’’
Aiden still asks, even though he has heard the answer.
“He wants to sleep in his own bed,’’ said Negron, not the cots that fill the gym at the church.
On Few Avenue, Snook and his family saved more than 2,000 family photographs. Still, the house is a gutted shell from the flood. “I lost memories,’’ lamented Kerri Twaddell, Snook’s’ daughter.
Anxiety, anger, sleeplessness and mild depression are common among victims of a natural disaster – so Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare offers a counseling hotline at 1-866-803-6382.