Tragic flood paralyzes area8-year-old dies, dozens left homeless, traffic halted

By on September 14, 2011

By: ANGELA CABEZAS Review Staff acabezas.eph@lnpnews.com, Staff Writer



This incredible aerial photo of some of the devastating floods caused by Tropical Storm Lee were taken last Thursday by Steve Warner from Lititz, a pilot out of Lancaster Airport. This photo shows just how widespread the floodwaters of Cocalico Creek were in the area of Route 322 West at Fulton Street. The Ephrata Business Center (formerly Moyers/Gerber complex) can be seen on the left. In the center of the photo is the turn off of Route 322 where motorists normally can take Cocalico Street into the park or go left down Fulton -- though both options seem to have disappeared on this photo. (Photo by Steve Warner)This incredible aerial photo of some of the devastating floods caused by Tropical Storm Lee were taken last Thursday by Steve Warner from Lititz, a pilot out of Lancaster Airport. This photo shows just how widespread the floodwaters of Cocalico Creek were in the area of Route 322 West at Fulton Street. The Ephrata Business Center (formerly Moyers/Gerber complex) can be seen on the left. In the center of the photo is the turn off of Route 322 where motorists normally can take Cocalico Street into the park or go left down Fulton -- though both options seem to have disappeared on this photo. (Photo by Steve Warner)

Last week’s tropical storm Lee, which is responsible for the death of a small boy from East Cocalico Township and a 62-year-old woman from Lebanon as well as the displacement of dozens of families, is being called the most devastating storm to hit Lancaster County in decades. Lee has caused a number of problems for the Ephrata area, and it is rumored that its destruction rivals that of Hurricane Agnes, which ravished the area in 1972.

"I’ve lived in Ephrata since 1960 and have never seen anything of the magnitude of what we just went through," said Mayor Ralph Mowen. "It far surpassed Agnes. The water is higher than it’s ever been and faster than it’s ever been."

According to Mowen, last week was the first time in history that the Cocalico Creek has risen high enough to cover the section of Main Street near the Ephrata Business Center. It was also the first time in Mowen’s memory that there has been "basically one way in and out of Ephrata," as heavy flooding closed a number of roads and bridges including north and south State Street, Mohler Church Road and 322 West near Modern Cleaners. Sections of state routes 897, 1024, 1029, 4003 and 4010 are still closed and may remain out of commission until next week.

Dozens of area schools were also forced to close last week, and it is undetermined at this time how the lost days will be made up. Many businesses were also unable to open, including Green Dragon, which has only been shut down by inclement weather three times in the last 50 years, all due to snow.

Not everyone appreciated the seriousness of the storm, however. Despite cautions to stay inside and out of the high — and dangerous — flood waters, many people treated the situation as an opportunity for amusement, inner tubing down creeks, driving through deep water and slipping past barricades to get a better look at flooded streets.

"It’s hard for me to describe how exasperated we’ve become with people who try to make this a recreational adventure," said William Harvey, Ephrata Borough’s chief of police. "We had people stopping their cars and getting out to take pictures, which was stopping traffic and (delaying) emergency responders and people trying to evacuate. It endangered many people’s lives."

Curious citizens and closed roads were not the only problems faced by the Ephrata area. Thirty to 40 homes throughout Ephrata borough and township experienced notable damage from the storm, leaving many without electricity, clean water, or in some cases, a safe place to stay.

Nearly 75,000 people were forced to evacuate throughout northeastern Pennsylvania due to the seven to 15 inches of rain Lee brought, and the Susquehanna River crested above 58 feet in Marietta. Though this was lower than Agnes, who dumped 10-20 inches of rain on Pennsylvania and swelled the Susquehanna to nearly 64 feet in Marietta, consequences were severe enough that President Obama issued a disaster declaration for several counties in Pennsylvania, Lancaster included.

One of the hardest-hit areas in Ephrata was the neighborhood near Nissley Acres Park, where five homes have been condemned and several others have "major issues," according to Nancy Harris, Zoning and Codes Administrator for Ephrata Borough.

"(Some) have structural deficiencies, and some are just filled with muck. They’re not livable. They’re wet, smelly — they’re definitely a health hazard," Harris explained.

Harris and other Ephrata Borough representatives have teamed up with the Ephrata Pioneer Fire Company, the Ephrata Borough Police Department, local churches and individual volunteers to provide those in the Nissley Acres area with relief and aid.

"These people have lost everything … we’re talking furniture, we’re talking clothes, we’re talking some basic living elements to get by, like toothbrushes," said Captain James Kiefer of the Ephrata Pioneer Fire Company. "They don’t even have clean water to wash their hands."

"I have been around these situations a couple times and this one — the devastation down in the Nissley area — is mind-boggling," agreed Mayor Mowen, who plans to tour the neighborhood with Senator Brubaker and Representative Denlinger later in the week to assess the damage and develop a relief plan. "If I never see anything like this again, it’ll be too soon."

Residents from Nissley and other parts of the Ephrata area whose lives have been impacted by flooding are invited to attend a meeting on Thursday at Trinity Lutheran Church. A community meal will be offered at 6 p.m. followed by a meeting at 7:15 to address concerns and distribute information about food, shelter and other necessities.

A bus will be leaving from the intersection of Nissley and Bellevue Roads at 5:30 for those who would like to attend the community meal and again at 6:45 for those who would only like to attend the meeting.

People living outside of the Nissley area who would like to attend but are unable to provide their own transportation should call 656-4271 and ask for Josh Grine.

Help is also available through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Those wishing to register for assistance should call 800-621-3362 or visit disasterassistance.gov. More FLOOD, page A2

About Ephrata Review