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Thursday, October 6, 2011

It Flooded Our Towns But Not Our Hearts!

Water Street Danville

Tree house in Riverside

10th Street Bloomsburg

SART Shelter
Shelter is closing~Coordinator Larry Smith loads food given
 by the Red Cross. He is taking it to the Espy
Fire hall for residents.

Some of our team members. Erin Akerman (seated) & Linda Anderson (blue shirt) who stayed day and night with her grandaughter Samantha never going home while the shelter was open. I wonder what her dreams were about when she could finally relax in her own bed! Ruff, ruff! Great Job Team!

“This could be the worst possible flooding since Hurricane Agnes in 1972.” Said a voice from the TV. “Due to a stalled front to the left of us, Tropical Storm Lee to the right of us and this weather pattern of rain already over us, you might see the equivalent of three months worth of rain in three days or less. The stream and river levels will continue to rise and overflow their banks causing flash flooding.”   

Wednesday Sept 7, 2011 ~12:30 PM: A forwarded email message is sent via our SART Coordinator from the EMA for our County Animal Response Team to be prepared to open a shelter.

Wednesday Sept 7, 2011 ~8 PM: My work supervisor sends a message that we are closed Thursday.

Thursday Sept 8, 2011, ~9 AM :  I drove to the banks of the Susquehanna river to watch its anger as it  quickly rose carrying with it anything that lay in its path. People were mulling about on the Danville /Riverside Bridge snapping picture after picture. I parked my car in the lot of the English Garden Boutique near the foot of the bridge and headed toward the bridge’s walkway to do the same with my own camera. The river has not yet caused as much damage as we fear it will in just another 24 hours but pictures of minimal damage are already spreading on Face Book like wild fire.

I walked over the bridge toward the Danville tunnel as the muddy water continued to rise and churn just forty feet at the underside of the bridge’s edge. Debris of trees, tires, barrels, and telephone poles made a safe passage under the bridge and moved swiftly down the river. When I reached the tunnel I climbed to the top and took pictures of both the river and of the levy system Danville had put into place years ago. This man made dam of cement blocks and sandbags closed off one side of Route 11 Danville from the other side of Route 11. We are a town closed in now, roads are blocked, and there is little traffic aside from fire trucks, police cars and emergency vehicles.  Volunteers along  the street were packing more sand bags making an assembly line as they tossed the bags from one to another, looking very organized and calm in the midst of possible tragedy.  

I walked down to the end of Mill Street in Danville to River Park. River Park was born when the old bridge was dismembered and a new one erected several years back. The park is maintained by volunteers who live in the Danville and Riverside area and it sits just on the edge of the Susquehanna River. I mingled with other town folk and there was a feel of nervous anticipation in the air. There was caution tape blocking off part of the park which had already been compromised by the river. After snapping a few pictures I walked over to Water Street. Water Street sits near the edge of the Susquehanna and has not yet been totally evacuated but is in the path of the raging river and will probably be evacuated over the next 24 hours.  Other streets further up the Susquehanna River in Danville have been evacuated as the river’s edge had started to make its way over the banks. As I stood near these homes I realized they too will soon be barren. A wooden bench with stone anchors has lost it’s glean as it sits where it has been for years, but now it is halfway under water.

As I looked at the people gathered nearby I saw among them a young familiar face, then another face I recognized emerged from a garage. These brothers had gone to the early educational center where I work. I then see their parents whose home is less than 80 feet of the swollen river and they are watching, hoping, praying that it comes up no further.  Next to the children there is an old tree which harbors a very frightened groundhog who is burying his face into the tree’s trunk hoping the humans around him will do him no harm. On just the other side of that tree trunk under a structure of sticks and leaves sits a mouse and a mole. The children have placed this makeshift home atop of them hoping to avert the river’s swallow.  

Thursday Sept 8, 2011, ~ 2 PM:  Five hours have passed from my first morning’s journey to the river’s edge and I heard that Route 80 is closed from the Buckhorn exit to the Danville exit due to flooding. This main artery’s closing is a first around here, as it has never been closed due to flooding. The river’s statement means business. I strolled down the same streets I did earlier in the morning and snapped a few more pictures. The river’s rise gave way to nothing as the continued onslaught of tree trunks and other debris moved swiftly through the small rapids above the water. The undertow looked immense.  

Upon my return home my phone was ringing.

“Hello?” I ask. I am wondering who is on the other end of the phone, although there is a feeling in the pit of my stomach, anticipating what this call will bring.

“Sally?” Amanda asks. Amanda is the Co-Coordinator of our County Animal Response Team (CART). “The EMA wants you to open a shelter in Danville.”

“I can’t!” I answered. “The trailer with the equipment is sitting at Annie’s place in Bloomsburg and I heard that Route 80 is closed.”

 There is no passage way for me to secure the equipment that I will need to open a shelter. After many discussions and trainings, what our team thought would never happen, happened. The major artery from our town to the town that housed the trailer of supplies was washed out.  

After a discussion with our Coordinator, I realized the best I could do was open my garage as a temporary shelter. I had a few large crates that could house animals , but most would have to bring their own crates and food.

 My garage which had been set up appropriately for a weekly garage sale since my home is on the market, now needed to be divided into sections for potential dogs, cats, and ill animals. In this the first full week of September the air is still hot and stagnant so to insure some comfort for potential guests I moved every available household fan and portable air conditioner I could manage into the garage. I placed a sign with the SART Logo and the words Animal Shelter at the foot of the driveway as well as on the garage itself.

   Once that was done I found myself back at the river’s edge taking pictures and I made my way toward the groundhog’s sanctuary to see if he has been harmed by the water. This time though the scene was a bit different, a bit more surreal as the National Guard has suddenly been stationed at the end of the road. The groundhog is wet but safe with a piece of bread in front of him  and the families I left earlier this morning are still standing outside watching the river which is now just a few feet from their home.

Walking back over the bridge to  Ave D &H in Riverside where my car is parked I came across a young lady wrapped in a beach towel, her long blonde hair was wet and tied back in a pony tail. I was standing in front of a quaint little house snapping pictures of a swimming pool that is crystal clear blue but surrounded by muddy river waters.

“Is this your house?” I asked.

“No.” she answered. “It’s my aunt’s house. I just moved back in August and my aunt is afraid she will lose her pool in this flood so she asked me to come over for one last swim. She loves her pool.”

“Does your Aunt have any pets?” I asked her.

“She has a cat.” The girl answered.

 I went on to explain who I was and offered my garage as a shelter to the cat if needed.  

“Thank you.” She replied. “I’ll let her know.”

Friday Sept 9, 2011~ 8:15 AM: I had heard all day Thursday that the river would crest about 8 AM Friday morning so again I drove to the river’s edge parked my car and started the walk down Ave D & H. My camera’s eye snapped away as I could not believe how high the river had risen. The lady’s pool which granted her one last swim just the day before was indeed gone and her garage was underwater as well. All that remained around the pool was a white fencing and garden trellis which still stood proudly holding itself up atop the muddy water.

The gentleman on the corner of the bridge whose home suffers with every flood was now fighting furiously to pump out the water that had flowed into his home, back out into the muddy river where it belonged. He did not seem defeated yet as he stood talking to a friend or relative, their backs to onlookers. He has been through this so many times, but I do not believe to this extent.

I put my camera away and headed back to my car as shortly I was to meet with personal from the EMA to go on a call. It was at this time that I found out that the river had not crested at 8 AM as previously announced, but was expected to crest at 2 PM! I could not fathom how much higher it could possibly go.

I made it back from the call and to the river’s edge just at crest time and it was indeed astounding. The water seemed to be churning around the underbelly of the bridge like it was getting ready to swallow it whole.

And then it hit me, this is not just a scene from an awful movie; this river has affected my friends, my neighbors, my co workers.  I began to wonder how do they stay so strong, how do they laugh, how do they get through a day of work, how do they get through the long nights, how do they hold onto their faith and get up everyday to face it again. And I wondered who will help them and for how long will they get that help.
 This is not something I would ever want to see again in this little part of my world.
As for the little groundhog I did not go back to see him as I feared he would be gone, unable to protect himself from the river’s grasp any longer.  I’d like to think he made his way to safety.

By Saturday Sept. 10, 2011, Route 80 was again open. The passageway on route 11 however remained closed for several days.

Sunday Sept 11, 2011 ~ 9:00 AM 

For all Americans, September 11th has a special meaning, a horrific memory of Al-Qaida’s attack on several prominent buildings, specifically the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon, killing thousands of innocent people for the simple reason that they hate America. So while a nation came together in tears and remembrance, in bravery, and in compassion, many in PA and other states were still dealing with the evacuation of their homes and the raging rivers.   

“Go .05 miles then make right.”
“Go 500 feet, then make right”.

By this time my GPS was clearly yelling at me and had no idea where I was headed, but I knew that the route it wanted me to take would be blocked with barricades, police, or the National Guard. 

“Go 2.3 miles then make right on Route 80.”  

That was it! The road to my final destination which was Annie’s Place at the Bloomsburg University just off Lightstreet Road.  Route 80 was the only way to get to our SART shelter from Danville. 

Ugh, just a few short weeks ago we were hit with Hurricane Irene and an earthquake which was felt in several states from Virginia to NY, an occurrence I have never been through, either currently living in PA or having grown up on Long Island NY. When I was a youngin’ it was said by my teacher that Long Island would never feel the effects of an earthquake because it is just a mass of rocks.
            There seem to be many occurrences or coincidences lately that should not be taking place, yet they are!

Since joining the State Animal Response Team (SART) in 2005, this is the first time officially that the Emergency Management Agency had called upon our specific County for shelter to aide in a brutal beating from a natural disaster. We had been put on notice a couple of times in the past but nothing ever came close to this pounding. It was so wide spread that many of our own members spanning two counties were dealing with their own homes and the pumping out of muddy water or the bringing up of their life’s possessions to higher ground.

As a group, our county SART (Columbia/ Montour) had been through much training, had many meetings and participated in events to raise public awareness of who we were and what our purpose was.  But was it enough?

The public over the years began to realize that we were not a shelter to find homes for their unwanted pets but a shelter called out only by our county EMA to house pets during a disaster. Yet like most volunteer organizations, over the years people take an interest and join, but when nothing happens they begin to lose interest and new volunteers are sought out. 

This pounding by the Susquehanna River hit an already sparse team square in the stomach with a punch so hard it sometimes left us breathless.  That being said, with the few who were able to remain I have to say I am very proud of the way they performed. We have regulars in our group that I call the “Core Team” who attend every meeting and shelter training to ready themselves for just such an occasion and it was these core people and the leadership of our Coordinator and Co-coordinator that made everything run so smoothly.   To all of them I take off my hat for a job well done!

As well, let me not forget the public volunteers especially from the Bloomsburg University. If not for them we may have gotten a bit bogged down or overwhelmed. Their spirit was always bright and cheery to do such daunting tasks as to clean a pen or walk a dog. They came back four and five times a day to help with the animals and they always came in with smiles and a fresh outlook. Many became foster parents to these animals they cared for daily when the shelter had to close and the owners were not yet ready or capable to bring their pet’s home.  I give a big “Four Paws Up, Way Up” to this group of caring dedicated people as well.  I am hoping they will sign on and become lasting members of our team.
A big thank you also to the Red Cross for keeping the food coming, not only for the people but also the animals!

 I will be forever amazed at the public who came together for their fellow townspeople, and I am amazed at the people who are still dealing with the aftermath that are standing strong and undivided.  It is said that people are given only what they are able to carry on their shoulders and I find the people who are still carrying this load are strong in spirit and united, and on the occasion when the load gets too heavy and one may fall, the others are there to pick them back up.

This blog article is not just about a horrible disaster or the tragedies as seen both in the moment and in the aftermath, it is about people who worked with what little they had to make the task run as smoothly as possible and to help each other during disastrous times. Surely this disaster will be remembered by many, but let it not be remembered for the destruction of property,  let it be remembered for the humanity that rose above the mighty Susquehanna River. 

At my youtube site you will find some of the pictures taken by not only myself but others all connected as a community.

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