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Flood of 1972 had highest record

By Staff | Jul 11, 2019

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Dennis Gruver, Coordinator for the Montgomery Emergency Management Agency, gave a presentation to the Montgomery Historical Society on June 20 about Hurricane Agnes, and how significant improvements have been made since 1972 for better emergency preparedness. He is showing a supply kit that was used during the flood in June of 1972.

MONTGOMERY – If you were living in 1972, chances are you will remember Hurricane Agnes. Brothers Dennis and Leslie Gruver from Montgomery will never forget it. Both men have served with the Montgomery Emergency Management Agency over the years and were on the scene full time as emergency responders during Agnes which caused severe flooding in the Susquehanna Valley at the time. The water rescue team was in full force that June when four days of constant rain turned Montgomery into a state of emergency.

On June 22, 1972 water levels reached 37.50 according to Dennis Gruver who gave a presentation to the Montgomery Historical Society on Thursday night, June 20. The gauge is marked at the Montgomery Post Office where it is also noted that river levels crested at 36.30 in 1936, another year of tremendous flooding. “Look for the white mark,” Gruver said referring to the markings at the Post Office. He also said it almost happened again in 2011.

Gruver had a video made in digital format that was recorded from 1972 by Norman Kulp to share, and it showed how the streets of Montgomery were flooded. The EMA building was located at 40 Thomas Ave. Les Gruver said, “We’ve never seen rushing high water like that before.”

A military truck was owned by the EMA and Lycoming County and was used at the time for rescue. The first call came early on June 22 and boats were needed. “Flash flooding is the biggest thing for our valley,” said Dennis Gruver who served actively with the EMA from 1969 to 1980 and is still a coordinator today. The first rescue was at the bottom of School House Road, and shortly after that a large volume of water hit and went through Hulsizer Chevrolet. “Black Hole Creek drains the whole valley,” Gruver added. “We lost our water system and sewer.”

A 200 bed emergency shelter was set up at the high school and more beds were located at the Lutheran Church. Water cans furnished by the Office of Civil Defense stored water and were dropped off on Houston Avenue in Montgomery. “These were also used as sanitation kits and a porta-potty,” Gruver explained.

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Shown is an actual emergency supply kit used during hurricane Agnes when flooding massed the Susquehanna Valley in June of 1972. There was no running water or sewer at the time and Civil Defense would deliver these water containers with supplies, and also used them as “porta-potties.”

“A lot of flood refuge went to Swisher’s dump,” said Gruver who also said he saved one of the wool blankets they used back then. Today blankets are folded provided by Red Cross and disposoable, not made from all wool.

Volunteers spent much time moving things to second floors and there was one death reported, that of Albert Schick who was directing traffic on the corner of Montgomery and Thomas Avenue.

One of Dennis Gruver’s most memorable moments was when water got in the railroad crossing gate and the controls. “The alarm bell rang for several hours. Montgomery was a hole in the valley, and the town came together to keep Montgomery on the map.”

Another passing memory passing for the Gruvers was when they witnessed a rowboat in the distance pulling about 20 cows across the water. “It was amazing – we never knew cows could swim.”

Food was not an issue, but the rest rooms were according to the Gruvers. There was no running water for the homes and power lines were down. “It was a scary time,” they said.

Today, there is a more current, reliable source to the public. Seven years ago a website was built with radars, gauges, and flood tools with recorded data and flood level points.

“We change the messages almost every day,” said Les. The public can follow with updated radar weather maps, a web cam and statistical weather data that is revealed as well as weather forecasts and locations for current storms. “Immediate notification is out there.”

River readings are watched closely, especially for those who have cabins and summer lots along the river. “We can take into accunt expected river levels and watch what happens 2 counties away,” they said. Readings are sent every hour to Weather Management. “The gauge in Muncy is very important,” Les said. A warning siren was tested about a month ago and each month it is tested. A warning is also given through the phone system with the borough.

The Montgomery EMA began in the early 60s known then as the Civil Defense. Shortly after hurricane Agnes, regular meetings were held to provide the community with better emergency preparedness and self-help training, life saving skills and more equipment. Two way radio communications and a special unit vehicle were added as well as pumps, generators and lights.

Every municipality in Lycoming County now has an appointed Emergency Management Coordinator and a designated plan. Both Les and Dennis Gruver have served for 48 and a half years, and both are hoping to make it to 50 years. There are 20 volunteers serving Montgomery’s EMA and a monthly newsletter is published. All of this can be obtained at their website at www.montgomeryboroughema.org.

As long as volunteer membership continues, the EMA can continue to be successful, said the Gruvers.