AVOCA — A $5.7 million flood control project constructed after the January 1996 flood did not prevent Mill Creek from topping its channel Tuesday.
A massive ice jam caused the creek to overflow, flooding at least six homes and a tavern near York Avenue.
Mayor Robert Mullen said Luzerne County 911 contacted the borough’s police department to check on the creek at about 7 a.m.
“When police got down here, it was just starting to come across (York Avenue),” Mullen said. “It went up at least 3 feet since then.”
The 25-foot-wide bridge over Mill Creek on York Avenue caused large chunks of ice to bottle up, causing water to spill into a parking lot and across the avenue, flooding Litzy’s Lounge and six homes. Two vehicles in the parking lot were under water.
Tom Decker, who resides in an apartment above Litzy’s, said the creek began to flood at about 5 a.m.
“It just progressively got worse as it rained,” Decker said. ‘There is no place for the water to go.”
Ron Warunek, who lives next to Mill Creek and the bridge, said he worried last night about flooding when he heard the forecast that called for 1 to 2 inches of rain and temperatures well above freezing that would melt the snowpack. His house was inundated during the January 1996 flood before the concrete channel was constructed.
“Last night I was worried the creek could flood but I was surprised when I got up this morning and the creek was this high,” Warunek said.
Anticipating basement flooding, Warunek said he moved belongings within his house.
He said a sharp curve in the channel about 100 yards from York Avenue usually jams up with ice during the winter.
“During the summer, the creek flows really good. We can get 8 inches of rain and we’re not going to get any flooding. During the winter when it gets cold, the ice gets jammed up around that sharp bend and the ice jams form and it can’t move and it keeps building and building until this happens,” Warunek said.
The Times Leader reported in March 1997 that Avoca received $5.4 million from Pennsylvania and $300,000 from the federal government to construct the concrete channel to contain Mill Creek.
Excavators called in
An operator of a small excavator involved in a nearby construction project removed ice from the channel Tuesday. But that did little to alleviate the flooding.
Later in the morning, bigger excavators were brought in to remove ice.
The National Weather Service in Binghamton, New York, had previously issued a flood advisory and a flood watch for Luzerne County due to moderate and heavy rain.
In other areas of the county, Coxton Road in Duryea was closed due to flooding, and minor flooding was reported on Toby’s Creek near Dug Road in Kingston Township.
The Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre is expected to remain well below the natural flood stage of 22 feet. The river is expected to rise to near 17 feet Wednesday night.