Town sees worst flooding ever

Last year, Wesley United Methodist Church made flood buckets for hurricane survivors. Now they're getting flood buckets of their own.


Last year, Wesley United Methodist Church members made flood buckets for hurricane survivors. Now they're getting flood buckets of their own.

Two weeks after devastating flooding hit towns along the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers, Bloomsburg residents continue to clean out homes and assess damages. While Bloomsburg is close to the Susquehanna River, the Fishing Creek is the tributary that caused the most severe damage. Piles of debris line the western end of town and nearby Fernville. Some homes are surrounded by caution tape and have a pink sheet of paper on the door announcing 'HOUSE IS CONDEMNED.'

The Fishing Creek rose so quickly and rushed through the neighborhoods so vigorously that some homes were knocked off their foundations or had all the earth around them washed away.

For the congregation of Wesley United Methodist Church (WUMC), being on the receiving end of disaster relief is a different experience. Flood buckets are now being sent to them.

Yet they are still on the giving end, too. The members have been serving meals, collecting and distributing supplies, and cleaning out homes since the flooding hit.

"We've helped out 73 people so far. We've removed furniture, flooring, shoveled out basements and more. We're helping people from all walks of life," said the Rev. Thomas Young, WUMC's pastor. "One woman told me that she's lived in her home for 70 years but this is the first time anyone's ever helped her."

Young said they've tallied more than 2,300 volunteer hours in the past week, and many remarked on how much better the affected neighborhoods looked in only a week.

"I can't believe it looks like this now," said Charlie Crusan, a WUMC member and volunteer with the local Salvation Army chapter. "This is so much different from a week ago."

Generous support

Residents say the flooding is the worst they've seen, even worse than flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. The area has been affected by two previous floods that hit eastern Pennsylvania last spring and in September 2004, but none has required as much response and relief as this latest round.

"This is the most involved we've ever been," said Young.

Crusan added that the local responders are now going to create an emergency response team. "We've learned a lot so far from this," he said.

Support from near and far is pouring into the Bloomsburg area now. Businesses are donating supplies and volunteers are doing whatever is needed. Young said volunteers are the biggest need right now because so much cleanup work remains. "I worry about those families who are waiting to remove the debris from inside their homes," he said.

He and others are overwhelmed so far by the amount of help the town has received.

"There has been so much generosity. It's been like feeding the 5,000 at times. We'll think we're about to run out of something, but then someone brings more of whatever we need. It's unbelievable."

Young, his wife Connie, and Crusan were out one sunny afternoon this week dropping supplies off at the Fernville firehouse. The inside of the firehouse was a testament to the generosity. Cases of food and water were stacked along the walls.

'The first day I haven't cried'

Young said he's also been checking on affected families to see how they're doing emotionally. He said some are still in shock, but reality is setting in for others. Driving down one affected street, he greeted residents sitting on front porches or dragging ruined belongings to the curb.

When one woman approached the firehouse for supplies, he checked in. "How're you doing?" Young questioned.

"Good for now," answered the woman, pulling a wagon loaded with bottled water and Gatorade back to her home. "I haven't cried yet today, and that's a good thing. Today is the first day I haven't cried - any day I don't cry is good."

WUMC brought in professional counselors last week and now a local mental health provider is offering counseling support groups to anyone in need. Signs advertising the support groups are posted around the town.

Residents' spirits are also being bolstered by the volunteers. Young said the response so far has been very ecumenical - and Monday's volunteers demonstrated that. Three members of Montoursville Presbyterian Church were on their second trip to Bloomsburg in one week.

"We came because there are people in need," said Beverly Mathias.

Mathias joined Faye and Don Konkle in cleaning up the floors of one flooded home. The water line was easily visible through the home a foot up from the muddied floor. Faye Konkle said she wanted to help because her hometown had been flooded before, too.

"I've had family affected before, as well," she explained, mopping up the home's entryway. "And we've done other mission work before. We're all retired so we've got time to do this, too."

The three agreed that the residents appreciate it and that no one should face the disaster on their own. "I don't know how they face it, it's something you've got to be pretty strong to handle," said Don Konkle.

An ecumenical effort

Other involved local churches include Bloomsburg's First Presbyterian Church and First English Baptist Church. First Presbyterian has helped prepare and serve meals out of the Fernville firehouse as well. Their work teams have worked with other churches to mud out basements, said the Rev. Steve Cureton.

"We're also collecting towels and sheets to distribute to the affected families," he said. "Many of our own members were affected as well and we're doing what we can for them. It's a mix of emotions for everyone. Some are reinvigorated by the help and some are just drained by the loss."

Cureton said his church will be involved in the long-term recovery and will do whatever is needed. "Painting, drywall - whatever. This won't end in a week and we want to help."

Over at First English Baptist Church, a large American Baptist Men trailer sits out front. Church member Thelma Lowthert heard about the disaster relief work American Baptist Men does and contacted them. "I heard about this trailer full of supplies and so I asked if they could bring it here," she said.

And it arrived just as quickly - the trailer full of cleaning supplies, generators, power washers and more. Lowthert said any church members can use the supplies and that once more of a long-term recovery strategy is determined in the city and with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, American Baptist Men work teams from around the state will arrive to repair homes.

"About a dozen of our own church families were affected," said Lowthert. "Some had six feet of water inside and others a little less. We've always worked together before in floods, so this is just a continuation of that. Yet we've never had flooding as bad as this before."

Lowthert said she's also impressed by how well everyone has worked together, saying that the community has become even more close-knit. "Even if someone doesn't know you, they want to know how they can help."

To First Presbyterian's Cureton and others, this recent flood is a sign that this cycle may continue. "We're beginning to think this flooding will be a regular occurrence," he said. "But everyone's showing signs of strength, so we'll get through this."

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