Beyond the Byline: Flood of ’72 couldn’t wash away our spirit

By Bill O’Boyle [email protected]

			
				                                The June 1972 file photo shows flooding on East Market Street looking toward Public Square in June 1972.

The June 1972 file photo shows flooding on East Market Street looking toward Public Square in June 1972.

<p>This iconic photograph shows volunteers running from the levee in Kingston when sandbagging couldn’t hold back the Susquehanna River in 1972.</p>

This iconic photograph shows volunteers running from the levee in Kingston when sandbagging couldn’t hold back the Susquehanna River in 1972.

<p>Bill O’Boyle</p>

Bill O’Boyle

PLYMOUTH — I’m not sure what is more difficult to believe — that the Agnes Flood of 1972 happened 48 years ago, or that I can still smell that disgusting flood mud.

Yes, on June 23, 1972, the Susquehanna River swelled to one mile wide, breaking through the levee system and rushing through our front doors, devastating property and legacies.

It was awful.

To really appreciate the effects of the flood of ’72, you had to live through it. I did and it wasn’t pretty.

My dad and I were still recovering of the death of my mom in 1968. Dad decided that it wasn’t good for us to remain in our home at 210 Reynolds St. in Plymouth because of the daily reminders of life with my mom. So dad decided that we would move.

And move we did — from the flood-safe hill to the flood front line — West Main Street.

We had taken everything we had and placed it in our apartment. Most of our stuff, especially the sentimental items, were still in boxes. Photos, mom’s things, diplomas, records, books, baseball cards — everything that made our house a home — were stored in those boxes and tucked away in closets and a spare room.

Some day we would go through everything and decide where to place it all.

Agnes made that decision for us.

When we returned to our apartment after the water had subsided, we found little of what we once had — the items we cherished and wanted to keep forever. Everything was gone, swept away by the rushing waters of a muddy, raging river and taken to God knows where.

All that was left was ruined as well. And everything stunk so bad. We never thought that something like this could happen.

But it did — to everybody in the flood plain. Homes, businesses everything covered in flood mud and family heirlooms, keepsakes and valuables were washed away.

Not to mention the extensive damage to property. Homes and buildings were damaged, many beyond repair. People’s lives were altered forever.

When I look back at those days and weeks and months following the Agnes flood, I remember the amazing resiliency of those affected. So many people had their lives turned upside down and they were faced with dealing with such a tremendous loss — financially and personally.

That flood had so many devastating effects far beyond the obvious of property damage. The flood took away, in a most disgusting and violent way, everything that families had built over generations. The flood waters flowed into homes and businesses, but also entered the very souls of the people.

Coming back was a gargantuan effort. People rolled up their sleeves and went about the process of rebuilding their homes and their lives. For many, the rebuilding could never be completed. The losses were irreplaceable. The emotional toll was far-reaching.

Through it all, the people engineered a most amazing recovery. The “Valley With A Heart” was reborn. Many homes were saves, far too many others were lost. All those cherished items gathered over generations would never be recovered.

But the spirit of the people was never lost. The people were not going to allow that flood to diminish their lives, their history and their heritage be forgotten.

Agnes did much harm to this valley and its people.

But that flood could never wash away what had always been this region’s most valuable asset — its people.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.