Five years ago, my daughter made this short documentary for film school about the impact of Hurricane Agnes.
Fifty years ago today, at 5:15 am, my mother shook me awake with the words, “You need to get up–there’s going to be a flood and we need to leave.”
Hurricane Agnes was descending on the East Coast and hitting our area of Northeastern Pennsylvania particularly hard. A little more than 36 hours later, the Susquehanna River overflowed its banks. Most of Wilkes-Barre and Wyoming Valley was underwater–including our house.
While there was limited loss of life because of the timely evacuation efforts of local officials, the damages were devastating. Of the $3 billion in damage (over $21 billion in today’s dollars), two thirds of that was along the Susquehanna River basin.
In a flash, everything we owned was gone. We were homeless, camping out in the living room of friends on higher ground. We lived off food stamps, Red Cross handouts, and food donations from a hastily set up food kitchen. It was months before we were back in our house.
The Valley did rebuild–which took years. The federal government stepped in to provide relief, and FEMA was born as a result of what was learned from this disaster. The national flood insurance program was also created after Agnes, because low-cost, accessible flood insurance had not been available at that time.
Those of us who lived through this learned an important lesson. All of the material things we own can disappear in an instant. Family, friends, memories–that’s what counts, everything else can be replaced.
Everyday there are disasters happening around the world. Yesterday’s earthquake in Afghanistan is just the latest. Fifty years after the fact, when I hear about a natural disaster, the memories come flooding back–with the realization that we have to help those in need, because we know what it’s like to be at the mercy of Mother Nature.
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