Effects of floodwaters still linger
BY ROBBIE WARD
Len and Debbie Dixon rebuilt their house on property in Falls that was once her parents’, but their sense of home has not yet returned.
During the flooding, emergency responders convinced the Dixons to evacuate their Exeter Twp. home and stay at a nearby shelter for four days. Then a generous person donated a camper trailer for them to stay in until their house was rebuilt.
While they received some federal assistance to rebuild, building costs for their house have left them owing about $23,000.
And that’s not counting the losses at Dixon’s nearby auto repair business, which he says didn’t have enough flood insurance.
Floodwaters destroyed much of his shop, including welding equipment, battery chargers and compressors. With most area residents concerned about their homes, few came into the shop for car repairs, so business dropped.
Taking a break from working on his own vehicle at his shop, Dixon thought about life now compared to just after the flooding.
“We’re a lot better off,” he said. “But now we’re broke.”
Next door to the Dixon’s house on Church Street, Ken Eisenman’s retirement home blew up during the flooding. The explosion shook many neighbors’ windows and doors and was heard miles away.
Uncertain exactly what happened, officials believe a propane tank pushed by the floodwater crashed into his home and destroyed it. The night of the explosion, Eisenman slept at a nearby shelter.
Emergency officials woke him at 2 a.m. to deliver the bad news of the explosion.
He hoped to receive assistance, but FEMA officials ruled damage to his home wasn’t caused by floodwaters. They offered him a $1,000 to use toward rebuilding his home.
“I get nauseous thinking about it now,” he said, standing at his property. “I’m still trying to come up with a word for what happened.”
Nightmares related to the flood and explosion still occasionally haunt him.
Living in Pittston until his house is done, he visits daily to monitor construction progress.
Eisenman said he has spent about $150,000, most of his retirement savings after insurance payouts, to rebuild his home. Everything in the home was donated by friends, neighbors and strangers, he said, including the clothes he wears. While disgusted with government bureaucracy, his faith in community has increased exponentially.
“I love it here,” he said. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Driving through Falls, along the Susquehanna River, the aftermath of the flooding is still evident a year later. Campers on concrete slabs replace homes. There’s an eerie silence that David and Jean Reppy notice now. Their backyard touches the river.
When the river started rising last year, they gambled with time and lost. The couple moved their belongings from the garage to the second floor, then to the third floor. They were planning to go to a shelter but it was too late.
“We got stuck,” Reppy said. “At the time, we thought it would stop at the top of the garage.”
They survived inside the house for two days. As the floodwater subsided, they took buckets and patiently dumped mud out of their kitchen and other parts of the house. When they could leave, they saw homes shifted onto the road and learned Eisenman’s home had exploded.
“Hearing about that scared me,” Reppy said.
Sitting inside her home that required replacing carpet, parts of walls and cabinets, Reppy recently looked out of a window and watched people in boats and kayaks and said the beauty and quiet living keeps her and her husband on the family property. However, living so close to a river also means accepting the precarious whims of the sometimes bloated Susquehanna.
“Unfortunately, it’s part of living here,” Reppy said.
Twenty-one miles away in Mehoopany, Shawn Gallagher and Kimberlee Fletcher and their four children still see fingerprints from the flood in the rotting wood and holes in the front and back porches of their rental home.
The inside of the house, however, feels new after repairs that included replacing walls, a bathroom and kitchen floor.
Thinking back to that September morning when people knocked on her door shortly after 5 to tell the family about the mandatory evacuation, Fletcher relived the chaos. Her then 4-year-old daughter, Jennifer, cried when she saw all the water outside. Safe inside a temporary shelter at a Wal-Mart, the little girl wanted to know what would happen with all that water at their home.
“I told her I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Fletcher said.
The family moved to a shelter set up inside Tunkhannock Area High School and would stay there for a month. There were glimmers of hope and acts of kindness inside the shelter. One day an anonymous donor paid for the family to stay in a hotel for four days, and to pick out clothing, toys and a television.
“Somehow, I’d like to tell this person thanks,” Fletcher said. “He didn’t have to do what he did.”
Despite losing so many of their possessions, life is good now.
“We were a close family, but the flood made us even closer,” she said.