Through its work on flooding, Nurture Nature Center has been collecting the stories of people who have lived through flooding in the Delaware region – including stories from people who witnessed the flash flood on the Bushkill Creek in 1945 to those who endured the repetitive flooding of their properties in 2004, 2005 and 2006. We will post a series of these stories here for you to review, and invite you to submit your own stories – or responses – here through the comments section. Sharing stories is a positive way to help neighbors learn about flooding in the region, and to build a stronger community prepared for future flooding.
One particular story from Kathy Adams in Allentown caught our attention:
We started our glass business in a small garage in Allentown, Pa. Things were going well enough but I did began to take note a small creek behind the building that rose up on occasion. I wondered if we could get flooded. I began looking into the risk and getting some information on flood insurance. I wanted to get the insurance but my husband did not think it was worth it. We went back and forth. Then one year, just before my birthday, my husband asked me what I wanted and I told him: “I want us to get flood insurance for my birthday.” We did. Then less than three months later we had a flood, a big one, that put four feet of water into our shop. If we hadn’t been insured we would have probably have lost the business. That was nearly 30 years ago and we have ten employees now.
Judith Wrase Nygard recounts:
During the Delaware River floods of Sept. 2004, April 2005 and June 2006 aid efforts were coordinated through the Palisades Cluster of Lutheran Churches (seven Lutheran churches in the Upper Bucks Conference of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod). Established in 2002, the cluster includes Evangelical Lutheran Church of Durham, Saint Peter’s of Riegelsville, Christ Lutheran of Pipersville, Christ Lutheran Church of Springtown, Saint Luke of Ferndale, Trinity Lutheran of Pleasant Valley, and Upper Tinicum Lutheran Church.
After the first flood on Sept. 19, 2004 (20.7 feet at Frenchtown, NJ, the seventh highest flood recorded there) one minister, who came late to the Palisades Cluster pastors’ Bible study, reported a family along Cooks Creek needed help. The pastors went to see and started to collect needed items to help. When they heard that “there are streets in Raubsville where people are walking around in shock,” they organized relief efforts. Clean-up radiated from a tent, set up in Raubsville on Saturdays from September through November. Volunteers with Red Cross flood kits (with a break-down mop, broom, scrub brush, bleach, sponges, rubber gloves and work gloves) dispersed to move flooded home debris into two dumpsters, save what could be saved, and clean up outside the homes. The tent was the place for volunteers and flood victims to eat food donated by area churches as well as the place for flooded-out residents to meet and talk to others. In addition to forms for applying for assistance, information was provided about testing the safety of water in residents’ wells, the second priority of clean-up efforts. Volunteers worked to rebuild some houses, the third priority, and as winter came, there was concern about heat for houses. In all, 25 families in Raubsville and 9 families on Red Bridge Road next to Cooks Creek were helped. In March 2005 the first house blessing was held for a house rebuilt and funded by the Palisades Cluster and Lutheran Disaster Response, and another house was completed by volunteers from northern Pennsylvania.
These two houses were flooded again when the second flood (23.6 ft. at Frenchtown, NJ, the third highest flood recorded there) occurred on April 4, 2005. The first house was condemned, and the second house rebuilt for the second time by the same volunteers. Clean-up efforts centered in Riegelsville, Raubsville, Upper Black Eddy initially at the firehouse, and Point Pleasant at the Baptist Church. Volunteers surveyed the community to determine if residents had water available to use. Volunteer crews helped clean out flooded homes in Point Pleasant. Clean-up kits and water kits were distributed. In addition to food donations from Doylestown Hospital and from individuals, flood victims were able to eat at a restaurant in Riegelsville on a tab that the Palisades Cluster and Lutheran Disaster Response paid through donations. The priorities once again were placing debris into dumpsters as well as getting wells tested. Clean-up and rebuilding relief efforts by volunteers continued through June 2005.
When the Delaware River flooded a third time (23.4 ft. at Frenchtown, NJ, the fourth highest flood recorded there) on June 29, 2006, the churches’ relief efforts were coordinated from Point Pleasant Baptist Church, where soup and other food was served and clean-up kits were handed out. Donations to the Palisades Cluster and Lutheran Disaster Response provided tickets to victims to eat at the restaurant there. People who had spent all their savings to rebuild from one or both earlier floods now worried that no one would buy their property if they wanted to sell. Fire companies arrived in Point Pleasant to pump out basements. To determine the extent of damage and amount of needed help, volunteers went door to door in Upper Black Eddy with lunches in hand.
During the course of the three Delaware River floods, the clean-up work continued but changed. In the first flood efforts were more hands-on and direct. Beginning with the second flood, while the donations and hands-on help continued, more specialized help was arranged. For example, a group of experienced Mennonite volunteers were asked to rebuild a kitchen, a job that most volunteers could not do. The federal government did declare disaster status and specialized helpers such as plumbers and electricians will be sought to provide help. Grants are being applied for to help people clean up and rebuild. By the third flood in 2006 donations dropped, and volunteers dwindled, perhaps because of exhaustion, perhaps because earlier volunteers from Point Pleasant were now flooded themselves, perhaps because of relief efforts by these Lutheran churches directed at the Gulf states. FEMA set up trailers in Upper Black Eddy. Because more victims were willing to consider elevating their homes during the rebuilding, many volunteer hours went into the FEMA paperwork, getting permits and finding architects and engineers in order to complete the paperwork. After the third flood, donations administered through the Palisades Cluster and Lutheran Disaster Response went towards specific items such as a chairlift or cupboards.
Overall, organizers, volunteers and flood victims learned as they went. Organizers and volunteers initially learned that they needed to have tetanus shots. Through Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster training after the second flood, they learned about mold, live electrical wires and other health and safety hazards when entering a flooded home. One result is that a detailed written sheet about hazards is now ready for the next flood. After the first flood, communication improved between organizers and volunteers in the second and third floods; cell phones were increasingly important. Improved coordination between organizers, emergency medical services, and firehouses established systems for future emergencies.
Since the second and third floods, people along the river are more mindful of the rising river and now move items upstairs sooner. In many homes, household items such as washers and dryers were permanently relocated from the basement to the first floor, and drywall was installed horizontally so that only the bottom panel would be flooded. Flood victims and volunteers learned to know each other over the weeks of clean-up, leading to continuing associations. When furniture was donated and could not be stored anywhere, the donors were connected to people needing furniture so that direct deliveries could be arranged.
These flood clean-ups echoed the past: the famous 1955 flood, which is the highest recorded Delaware River flood (27.79 feet at Frenchtown, NJ) on Wednesday, August 20, 1955. On the following Sunday afternoon 100 members of the Christ Lutheran Church turned out to help clean up flood victims’ homes.
(This entry is an edited version of the full story reported in “Did You Know? Pieces of History”, written for the 250th anniversary celebration of Christ Lutheran Church, Pipersville, PA.)
Patricia Burch writes:
I was there at the Delaware River Flood in 1955. I was 9 and helped my father tie boats to trees and take furniture out of my Aunt’s property. We were in site of the Dingman’s Bridge and the water was about two feet below the bridge. We watched animals and houses float down the river.
From Judith Shewchuk Vroegindewey:
My brother and I were in Matamoras PA during the flood of 1955. We were staying with our grandparents on Delaware Dr. approx. 2 miles from the bridge that connects Port Jervis and Matamoras. Thanks to a neighbor who came calling my grandpa’s name at night shouting “Stanley, get out, get out..the flood is coming we were able to evacuate and get to higher ground. My brother was on grandpa’s back and I was on my grandmother’s back. My brother was almost 5 years old and I was almost 3 but have very vivid memories of that night.
Robert Shewchuk replied:
I remember the night well Sis. There was a hurricane and it was raining very hard. In the distance across the river, alarms were sounding. Grandma didn’t want Grandpa to put the radio on as it would wake us kids up. Then we heard the screaming sounds of Mr. Ryder, our neighbor next door who was swinging a red railroad lantern calling out “Stanley, Stanley” hoping to wake up our Grandfather and Grandmother.. When Grandpa opened the front porch door to see what was was happening outside, water crept in underneath the carpet and you could see the carpet darken as the water kept coming. The Delaware River, normally a long distance below and away from the bungalow was now right up the steps to the door of the house and rising very quickly. Grandma put you in a bed sheet, twirled it and put you over her shoulder. I climbed onto Grandpa’s back and put my arms around his neck. We all quickly moved down the steps into the rain, wind and deep flood waters, above Grandpa’s waist. Thank God he built stone slab steps into the steep mountainside behind the bungalow to access the drinking well and tank at the top. That was the only way out to safety that night as there was no place else left to go. We made it up the hill and into the pine tree grove above that. Then we broke into the old wooden tool shed in the pines, covered ourselves with tar paper and old burlap bags and got some sleep for the night!.