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Concerned members of the community met with Mayor Dan Knorr and local officials last night to discuss the town response to the disastrous September flooding. Mayor Knorr stated that the goal was to know what went right, what went wrong, and what could be done better in future flooding situations. He stated that “It’s critical that we not rely on memory, on word of mouth for that type of an emergency.”
From a purely factual perspective, we learned that the flooding was caused by three separate storm systems, with Tropical Storm Lee as the “knockout punch.” Town officials felt there was going to be serious flooding as of Wednesday, September 7th. At that point the Red Cross shelter was opened and the town issued a disaster declaration.
Public works and fuel pumps were surrounded by water. The town worked out a deal with Weis Markets to get fuel and other equipment. Police from other townships, Bloomsburg University, and Bucknell University assisted while working in concert with the National Guard. The Susquehanna River crested on September 9th and town police assisted with many of the nearly 20 required resident evacuations. We also learned that approximately $500,000 was spent on emergency services as of September 28th, with more costs expected in the future.
Mayor Knorr thanked the many volunteers, AGAPE, the Red Cross, Bloomsburg University, and others for helping in a time of need. He was thankful that there were no serious injuries or loss of life. “We can rebuild things, but you can’t bring back a life.”
After the mayor’s introductory comments, the forum was opened up to public comments. Public sentiment seemed to focus on the incredible tragedy that Bloomsburg residents have endured. Citizens posed questions about the mental health of victims, whether the forum was really focused on victims, and how people can still receive help. Almost instantly, the discussion turned to why the floodwall hasn’t been built, the details associated with the wall, potential FEMA or federal government buyouts, and whether residents may need to raise their homes.
When the subject of dredging the Susquehanna River and Fishing Creek was raised, former Mayor Dan Bauman joined the conversation and discussed the costs of dredging as opposed to a flood wall — with the flood wall being his preferred solution after 30 years of studying the issue. He went on to say that, given federal funding, residents will have to accept the flood wall that the Army Corps of Engineers is willing to give the town. Cost and property value ratios will dictate what the wall will protect.
Media response to the flooding was also discussed with praise of WHLM’s constant, live coverage. In addition, one resident wondered whether social media and internet resources would be the better information sharing strategy for future flooding.
But in the end, the meeting was about the victims. Residents were concerned about their futures in a town that is obviously prone to severe flooding — and with no obvious protection from the rising waters. Without any clear information about potential buy-outs or future flood walls, some were resigned to the obvious. One resident said, “We’re willing to walk away from our home with a mortgage. We’re not willing to rebuild. You don’t want to wreck your credit or walk away from the home you love, but you can do what you want, we’re done.”