WEST PITTSTON — For the second time in less than seven years, the Susquehanna River flooded the borough — this time due to a massive ice jam.
Borough first responders and residents who helped with the emergency two weeks ago were recognized at a council meeting Tuesday, with Mayor Tom Blaskiewicz awarding 56 certificates to police officers, firefighters, and EMTs.
“It’s so easy to say the word ‘first responder,’ but I wanted people in our community and in this region to know that these are husbands, brothers, sisters and when they hear the call they’re there,” he said. “I learned a long time ago that you celebrate successes, and we dodged a big bullet. I wanted us to gather here at this first monthly meeting and thank these people for all of their hard work.”
Sections of West Pittston were under a mandatory evacuation order for a time due to the rapid rise of the river. But when the ice jam broke, floodwaters on Susquehanna Avenue and side streets receded quickly.
Businesses that were honored included Luna’s Pizza and Antonio’s Pizza for donating food to residents and responders, as well as Kuharchik Construction for donating lighting to the flooded area.
Thomas Landscape Management, which is based in West Pittston, was also singled out for using its equipment to clean streets of ice and other debris. The business did the work free of charge.
The flood was the first natural disaster for Police Chief Mike Turner, who said he relied on the experience he picked up from his superiors during the 2011 Lee flood.
“I was thinking of what we did back then and I implemented it this time. So, that helped me out,” said the chief.
Turner said officers assisted with the evacuation process by going door to door. He was also in near-constant contact with the mayor on everything that was happening.
“The mayor and I worked hand in hand,” Turner said. “He helped me, I helped him and it was great. He had ideas, I had ideas and we were working together the entire time of the flood.”
West Pittston Fire Chief John Hood said his crews also went door to door, advising residents of the situation and handing out flyers. They also helped with evacuations.
He said the recent flood was harder to deal with than the flood of 2011 due to the unpredictability of the ice jam.
“You kind of knew what was going to happen when the water came up and what you had to do, but nobody knew what the ice was going to do,” Hood said.
Turner echoed Hood’s comments.
“Ice jams are unpredictable,” he said. “This was scary, it was unpredictable and we were monitoring it very, very closely every second of the day.”