Pa. Counties Flood for Second Time in 7 Months

April 11, 2005

The grim task of damage assessment continued last week as officials in nine Pennsylvania counties took note of houses, businesses, roads and bridges stricken by flooding from rains last weekend.

Thousands of structures up and down the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers and their tributaries were inundated for the second time in less than seven months, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage.

In Monroe County alone, businesses had already reported $40 million worth of damage as of Tuesday afternoon, “and that’s conservative,” said Harry Robidoux, director of emergency services. At least 300 homes countywide were flooded, he said.

In Easton, site of some of the worst flooding, people pumped basements and broomed mud from waterlogged homes, bulldozers cleared streets and insurance agents hopscotched from one customer to the next.

Frank & Dot Beer Depot lost its entire inventory of beer, soda and water, along with refrigerator cases and other equipment and merchandise. For health reasons, even cases of beer that weren’t touched by floodwater had to be tossed out.

Co-owner Frank Varju estimated the damage at more than $100,000.

“I want to cry,” said his wife, Dot Varju, as workers loaded pallets of ruined beer onto a trailer loaned by Yuengling brewery.

Some local roads and at least one bridge over the Delaware were rndered impassable, and some businesses were closed.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency raised its estimate of the number of homes evacuated statewide to more than 5,715 — about 1,700 more than earlier thought. It was unknown how many of those homeowners have been able to return.

PEMA officials, joined by their federal counterparts, are scheduled to tour the hardest-hit areas later in the week.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who has seen video of the damage, is in the process of asking for a federal disaster declaration in the flood-battered counties of Bradford, Bucks, Columbia, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike, Wayne and Wyoming. He declared a state disaster area in Erie County, which got several feet of snow over the weekend.

Wayne County in the Poconos reported $1.7 million in damage to just two bridges.

In neighboring Pike County, state Route 209 through Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was still closed, as was the bridge at Dingmans Ferry between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“We’re still out pumping basements and getting roads open. We really don’t have a lot of good, solid information” about the extent of damage, said Roger Maltby, Pike’s emergency management coordinator.

In Wyoming County, more than 200 homes were damaged, but no businesses, said emergency management director Gene Dziak. Neighboring Luzerne County estimated damage to between 100 and 150 houses.

A state of emergency was declared in Bradford County, on the Pennsylvania-New York border. Emergency management director James Vajda Jr. said some 200 homes were damaged when the Susquehanna overflowed its banks, with water levels rising to the first floor in at least 80 homes.

Bradford officials looked for damage to bridges and at a sewage treatment plant, while utility crews worked to restore electric and phone service.

Vajda assessed the damage from flooding after Hurricane Ivan last September at about $1.7 million, but “it’s worse this time around,” he said.

Down river in Columbia County, emergency management director Larry Lahiff said about 60 homes and a dozen businesses, mainly in Bloomsburg, sustained damage.

Lahiff said it was too early to give a financial estimate but the damage was “significantly less” than last September, when about 250 homes and businesses were affected by flooding.

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