Our view: Flash flooding a common danger ignored at our peril

John Motika removes debris from the street drain along Route 11 in West Nanticoke on Thursday. A pipe was replaced on Barrow street and filled in with gravel which runs down the hill and clogs the drain, as happened during Wednesday’s flash flooding. - Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

The sighs of relief could be heard up and down the Wyoming Valley.

After several days of intense rain and tense monitoring of Susquehanna River levels, there came a respite. Despite one more waterlogging late Wednesday, the sun finally and fully came out Thursday.

With it came the best news of all.

The National Weather Service graph we’ve all been watching this week started to head in the right direction again — down.

A Susquehanna River crest of 24 or 25 feet, predicted earlier in the week, had eased well below the 22-foot flood stage to just under 18 feet.

We focused on the river. You focused on the river. It’s the thing that defines this valley and lives in our consciousness as one of our greatest assets, yet one of our greatest slumbering threats. So its quiet retreat meant those creeping memories of 2011 and 1972 could be safely tucked away again, at least for now.

But of course that wasn’t the whole story.

If and when the river starts to climb up over its banks again, threatening low-lying areas or even the levee system, that will be a sad and scary day for the community.

Yet the rain we had this week, and its encore performance Wednesday afternoon and evening, produced the more common story and the one we all need to be more mindful of: flash-flooding.

As the scanner calls multiplied, it became obvious that many people were in possible danger. Aside from the expensive annoyance of flooded basements, there were signs that creeks and streams flowing down the valley toward the Susquehanna were the real threat this time, not the river itself.

Route 11, Route 29, West Nanticoke, Hunlock Creek, Shickshinny, Salem Township — many areas were hit by flash-flooding, power lines toppled, cars were stranded in rising waters.

That last one: Cars stranded in rising waters.

You live where you live. You work where you work. You can’t always predict when buildings are about to be deluged, and when days of rains lead to muddy torrents, there may not be much you can do to prevent your property from being affected.

Know what you can do? You can listen to generations of emergency officials and not put yourself and others in danger by driving through flood waters.

And yet, as always, that’s exactly what some people clearly did this week. By the grace of God, we are not aware of any injuries or fatalities.

One of the most frustrating things about being journalists is spending years reading and writing about the many terrible ways people suffer preventable injuries and deaths, only to watch those habits repeated too often to bear.

We can only hope that the message reaches more people than it doesn’t: Most flood deaths occur in vehicles.

That’s not us talking, it’s the National Weather Service.

Here’s what else they say: If you are driving and encounter a flooded road, do not try to drive through the water.

Please share this message with the young drivers in your life. Please take it to heart yourself. And please remember the first responders who would risk their own lives to save others in such dangerous situations.

— Times Leader

John Motika removes debris from the street drain along Route 11 in West Nanticoke on Thursday. A pipe was replaced on Barrow street and filled in with gravel which runs down the hill and clogs the drain, as happened during Wednesday’s flash flooding.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_TTL072618flooding1.jpgJohn Motika removes debris from the street drain along Route 11 in West Nanticoke on Thursday. A pipe was replaced on Barrow street and filled in with gravel which runs down the hill and clogs the drain, as happened during Wednesday’s flash flooding. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader