Relentless rain from Tropical Storm Agnes pushed the Susquehanna River over its banks on Thursday, June 22, 1972. It didn’t crest in Wilkes-Barre until Saturday when it reached 40.9 feet.
It flooded the Valley to the base of Exeter to Plymouth Mountains and beyond, but much of the Greater Pittston Area was spared.
In 2011, the Tropical Storm Lee Flood crest was 42.66 feet, but the dike, raised and reinforced in the 1990s, held and protected the Valley, but backed water up north of the dike, especially into West Pittston.
So while the 2011 Tropical Storm Lee Flood inundated more of Greater Pittston than the 1972 Agnes Flood did, Agnes caused more disruption and chaos here, because many local sites which escaped the flooding were used as staging areas. Not that West Pittston was spared completely in 1972, as 300 homes and businesses were affected.
The Wyoming Area High School, then on Montgomery Avenue, was not flooded and it was turned into headquarters for the National Guard and an evacuation center. At Pittston Area High School, then only three years old, the staff fixed up nice digs for 100 evacuees with cots, bedding and TVs. Cafeteria workers fed them, while Key Clubbers sorted donations of food and clothing.
Donation sites popped up all over the East Side including, the First Methodist Church Pittston, St. Rocco’s, Brick Church Duryea, the Old Forge Lawrenceville Hose Co. and the Yatesville, Hughestown and Duryea borough halls. Ditto on the West Side.
With the Fort Jenkins and Water Street bridges closed, Sunday Dispatch pressmen James O’Donnell and Carl Rhodes, who lived in the Back Mountain area, were determined to get to Pittston to print the paper.
Ettore Lorenzini picked them up and drove them to West Pittston. No boat to be found, they risked their lives stepping from tie to tie across the Coxton Yards railroad bridge with the river raging a foot below.
Just as determined to open their Pittston supermarket, brothers Sandy and Lennie Insalaco and Joe Gitkos, one of their supermarket managers, who all lived in West Pittston, did the same. They walked across the bridge to the Junction from where they hitched a ride into the city.
Manny Gordon, the legendary district forester, who also lived in West Pittston, was summoned to Scranton. A military helicopter flew him to Pittston Plaza, from where Frank Nocito drove him to Scranton in a state truck. The helicopter lifted off from a makeshift heliport at the old Exeter High School football field.
Meanwhile West Wyoming was playing whack-a-mole with Abraham’s Creek. Dump trucks and volunteers were just finishing a sand dike at Bridge Street when the creek overflowed between Licata’s Drugstore and Our Lady of Sorrows Church.
Please see Flood, page P5
The trucks and volunteers spent an hour there, then headed to Shoemaker Avenue where water rushing down Cooper Hill from the mountains threatened several homes. The next morning water rose on lower Tripp, Holden, Sixth and Eighth Streets. Over 100 families were evacuated from the lower end of Tripp and Holden to the Shoemaker Elementary school on Upper Eighth Street. Of 4,000 residents 2,000 were affected and most of the town had no drinkable water.
In Atherton Park, AKA Toy Town, residents had to be evacuated and eight homes were destroyed. The factories between the sets of railroad tracks, Diamond, MK and Eagans, were flooded and the Little League was under water.
Major Mizen, who didn’t sleep for three days, was moved to see 10 year old boys dragging sandbags they couldn’t lift.
In Harding Exeter Township 17 homes and 30 trailer homes were destroyed. The area was split in two by water and there was no way out for many residents. Helicopters supplied food and medical supplies and airlifted a few residents who had to get to a hospital. Shelters were set up at the Harding Elementary School and the Mt. Zion Church.
- Among the Army reservists setting up a field hospital at Exeter Stadium were Harold Jackson and Leroy Keyes of the Philadelphia Eagles and Fred Foster of the 76ers and Bob Mechionne of the New York Nets.
- Pittston resident Dan Conte and Forty Fort resident Kathy Pickering made national news when President Richard Nixon, touring the flood damage, stopped at their wedding in Forty Fort, hugged the bride and posed for photos.
- Lt. Joseph Sorcelli, Pittston, a Naval pilot stationed in Maine, collected supplies at his base and delivered them to the Avoca Airport collection.
- At 3 o’clock Friday the dike gave way behind the Midway Shopping Center. The water dug up graves in the Forty Fort Cemetery.
- The Jenkins Township Firemen pumped out 40,000 gallons per hour from residents’ basements, while the Ladies Auxiliary collected food and clothes to be shuttled to the emergency station at Pocono Downs. In Port Blanchard 60 homes were evacuated.
- Hughestown residents left items on their porches for the Boy and Girl Scouts to collect for evacuees.
- Two Coastguardsmen were transporting a woman, two kids and a cat when their boat got caught in a whirlpool near the Ft Jenkins Bridge. One of the men was spun out of the boat. His mate gunned the engine, caught him 30 yards downstream and pulled him aboard with a pole.
- In Exeter the first ward was under 10 feet of water, affecting 200 homes and 25 trailers in the Smith Trailer Court. A sandbag dike erected from Grant to Valley Streets on Susquehanna Avenue by police, fire, ambulance and hundreds of volunteers worked to keep most of the town dry. At JFK school while the staff made sandwiches for evacuees and volunteers, a trailer of food and clothes arrived from the Hillside, New Jersey Girl Scouts.
- The Army trucked 350 sacks of flour from the airport to Lombardo’s Bakery in Exeter where bakers made bread and distributed it free. Falcone Beverage in Pittston donated trucks to haul donations to St. Rocco’s and in conjunction with Budweiser filled and distributed 224,000 cans of water.
- Sandbagging at Stephenson Street Bridge in Duryea saved many homes, but 40 homes in the Chittenden Street area were flooded.
- The Water Street Bridge was stressed. The west ramp buckled and two piers leaned with the tremendous flow. Land under the north end of Kennedy Blvd settled several hundred feet.
- WA cheerleaders returning from a camp were stranded in enemy territory. They had to stay with friends in the Pittston area.
- The National Guard at the school in West Pittston befriended the evacuees. The Snyder family from Swoyersville, with six girls and one boy, were favorites. The kids hung a sign in their living quarters: “Happiness is dry boots and socks.”