40 YEARS AGO
Many old timers related to the great flood of 1936 as the greatest flood that we will ever see. The date was March 18, 19 of 1936. The water crested at 36.30 feet. This was the highest water level ever to flood the borough of Montgomery.
Until June 22, 1972 when hurricane Agnes came to visit our town, after several days of heavy rain the flood crest level was 37.50 feet. This is the highest on record for our town to this date. As our weather patterns change this record could be broken again, this could have happened in the fall of 2011 if the track of tropical storm Lee had been 50 miles more to the west.
The first call to Montgomery Emergency Management came early in the morning of June 22, 1972 to provide a boat to assist the fire department in the rescue of a family from a home next to Black Hole Creek close to the intersection of route 54 and School House Road.
Within a short amount of time a large volume of water came down Black Hole Creek with a force that destroyed much of Hulsizers Chevrolet company. The water came over their counters and broke the plate glass windows in the showroom. One emergency service volunteer almost lost his life in an attempt to rescue an elderly person from a home across from Hulsizers. After a short time the surge had passed that area leaving a large amount of destruction to residential and commercial buildings.
As the water surge continued toward Montgomery Borough, the municipal water system located on Black Hole Creek at the rear of a residence on North Main Street, was destroyed. The red barn is still standing on the site, but the borough sewer system was damaged by the effects of the storm.
As the day progressed volunteers from the Montgomery Volunteer Fire Department, Emergency Management and residents waded water at Brook Street and West Houston helping others move their furniture to second floor levels.
Montgomery had one death from the flood. Albert “Baldy” Shick died while on duty as a fire policeman with the Montgomery Volunteer Fire Department. He was directing traffic at the intersection of Montgomery Street and Thomas Avenue as the water was rising.
Montgomery High School was the site of the mass care center with 250 people housed and fed there for several days. With the borough water and sewer system out of service, water from a well at the Dorsey Creveling residence at the top of West Houston Avenue was used to fill 18 gallon EMA cans which were delivered to the mass care center to flush and to cook. Also water cans were set on street corners and on resident’s porches.
While I worked on the outside with volunteers from the Fire Dept, EMA and others that just wanted to help with logistics, my wife Nancy headed up the mass care Red Cross operations inside the school with many volunteers.
Montgomery EMA was very lucky to have a 200 bed emergency hospital in storage at our equipment building located at 40 Thomas Avenue. As the water rose many volunteers moved all the equipment to Montgomery High School. We were able to provide cots, pillows and blankets to all in the shelter. Only a 15kw generator remained in the building as it was too heavy to move. After the flood the generator was rebuilt by Don Feaster and Francis Getgen; the unit is now on a trailer and is in use today.
Several other events come to mind as the water was on the rise. Rising waters reached the control box for the crossing gates at the Pennsylvania Rail Road crossing. A warning bell rang for many hours until the equipment flooded out. Also the water flooded the control system of the Montgomery Fire Dept. whistle located behind the Post Office. This was at night and the noise made a bad situation worse. This continued for several hours until the motor burned out and the unit went silent.
We are very fortunate that Montgomery is a Hill and Valley town when it comes to flooding. Many homes in the flood’s way were destroyed and residents were relocated but the town came together to keep Montgomery on the map. The next time you pass the Montgomery Post Office look for a white mark on the bricks about 5 ft. from the ground on South Main Street side of the building. This was the level of the 1972 flood. Also check the town stream gage as you go toward the Riverside Camp Ground where 37.5 ft. is near the top. Another reference point is the gage mounted on the Emergency Management Building at 40 Thomas Avenue. I was appointed Emergency Management Coordinator for the Borough of Montgomery on December 29, 1969. That was the greatest amount of flooding I hope that our community shall ever have to deal with.
A local resident Norman Kobbe took 8mm video of the flood from start to finish; that has been transferred to DVD. Our thanks to Norm for taking and sharing this historical event. For more weather related information from the Montgomery Area check the following web site: www.montgomeryboroughema.org provided by Leslie and Mike Gruver for the Montgomery Emergency Management Agency and the Borough of Montgomery.
These are portions of the event that I can remember as we soon will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Hurricane Agnes and the great flood of 1972.