PLYMOUTH — On the morning after Mother Nature flexed her muscle in the region once again, state Sen. John Yudichak remembered the devastation of two years ago along Coal Creek.
Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, held a press conference Friday at the Plymouth National Guard Armory to talk about the flooding on July 3, 2011, when 6 inches of rain fell in less than an hour, causing the creek to overflow.
Homes and properties were severely damaged and the road and two bridges were weakened or washed away, isolating several families.
Al Ottensman of Smith Row remembers that event well. He was returning home with his son to find 6 inches of water in his basement and a large tree across his lawn. When he and his son walked over to Coal Street, they couldn’t believe their eyes.
“It was like a tidal wave went through there,” he said Friday. “We found a woman pinned against her garage. A car was on its roof, homes were off their foundations and the road was gone.”
Ottensman’s son, Robert, waded through water and mud to rescue the woman and walked her to safety.
“Phones were down,” Robert Ottensman said. “We had to do what we could.”
Damage reaches $5 million
Yudichak said the damage was estimated at $5 million and fell well short of the threshold for federal aid. Federal, state and county officials worked together with Plymouth Borough and Plymouth Township to obtain some $1.3 million in public and private funds to restore the Coal Creek area, he said.
“I can assure you that without the remarkable level of cooperation between all parties — the communities, the various agencies and the residents — the best of plans and the best of intentions would have fallen short,” Yudichak said. “Within hours after the flooding through today, the Coal Creek remediation project has been the ultimate display of teamwork and cooperation.”
Yudichak said when he and other officials visited the Coal Creek area, they were “stunned” at the amount of devastation because the area sits up high in the hills of Plymouth. These areas were high and dry during the 1972 Agnes Flood.
“Cars were overturned, property was washed away, causing homes to move off their foundations, and the road was wiped out,” Yudichak said in describing the 2011 event. “(Thursday) night we got another taste of Mother Nature’s wrath. I can tell you that because of this project, damage was minimal this time around.”
The creek bed has been restored and retaining walls have been built to alleviate the erosion of property along the creek. The street has been repaired and the bridges replaced or restored.
Yudichak was joined at the press conference by Josh Longmore of Luzerne County Conservation District; Gary Smith, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Colleen Connolly, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Luzerne County Council Chairman Tim McGinley; Michael Salvo, Pennsylvania American Water Co.; Plymouth Township Supervisor Gale Conrad; Plymouth Mayor Dorothy Petrosky and representatives from numerous state and federal legislators’ offices.
Public and private resources
Yudichak also acknowledged U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, who all contributed to the recovery efforts.
Residents were angry for a long time because of the delays in getting them assistance, Yudichak said. But he said their resiliency was critical to the comeback effort.
Yudichak said $700,000 in state funds were secured, $450,000 in federal funds and $340,000 came from corporate partners such as Pennsylvania American Water Co.
Mike Salvo of PAWC said the company had to repair two large water lines and secure them in the creek. PAWC workers, some of them flood victims, answered the call to duty to help the Coal Creek residents, he said.
Petrosky said the best way to measure the effectiveness of the project was to look at Coal Street Friday morning after the previous night’s heavy rains. “This shows us that the project has done its job,” she said.