Lee's Flooding Leaves Pennsylvania Homes in Ruins

September 20, 2011; 10:12 PM
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Video by AccuWeather.com Producer Grace Muller

Rick Albertson has lived in Bloomsburg, Pa., his entire life. Of the six floods he has been through, including Agnes in 1972, he said last week's was the worst.

He remained in his home as raging flood waters closed in and rose more than half a foot deep through the first floor. A blackhawk helicopter flew overhead with National Guardsmen calling down to ask if he needed assistance.

Albertson gave them a thumbs up sign, indicating he was alright and would stay in his home. He was one of the few on his street who did not evacuate.

"We were soaking our feet while we were eating supper in 7 inches of water," Albertson said, laughing in spite of the situation.

Farther down the road, flood waters lifted Tony Miller's home off its foundation and swept it into his backyard. Another house a few doors down collapsed. These homes line the outer edge of the grounds of the Bloomsburg Fair, which was canceled for the first time in its history since 1855.

This is Albertson's neighbor Tony Miller's house. The flood waters lifted it off its foundation and swept it into his backyard. The house is a total loss.

Many residents spent the next few days shoveling feet of mud from their basements.

Bloomsburg is microcosm of the devastation left behind by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. Lee unleashed more than a foot of rain in places from Louisiana to New York, sending creeks and rivers rising to record levels and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

In Binghamton, N.Y., and Wilkes-Barre and Bloomsburg, Pa., the Susquehanna crested at the highest height ever recorded. For most places, the record to beat was Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

President Obama declared disaster areas for 42 counties in Pennsylvania and 15 in New York last weekend. The worst of the flooding was focused along the Susquehanna River Valley, which extends from Cooperstown, N.Y., to the northern end of Chesapeake Bay.

At least 15 deaths have been blamed on the flooding from Lee, according to the Associated Press.

When totaling up the damage caused from Louisiana to New York, Lee could become the nation's 11th billion-dollar disaster this year. 2011 set the record for most billion-dollar disasters in a year in the U.S. when Irene became the 10th.

Flooding is seen Friday, Sept. 9, 2011, in Bloomsburg, Pa., after remnants from Tropical Storm Lee continued to produce heavy rain overnight. The grounds of the Bloomsburg Fair are located in the middle of this photo with water up to the roofs of buildings. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

In Columbia County, Pa., where Bloomsburg is located, the damage is preliminarily expected to be in the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Columbia County Emergency Management Coordinator Larry Lahiff. That's just one county.

Lahiff said his best estimate for the number of structures that have been damaged or destroyed by flood waters in the county is 2,500. He stressed that this is a preliminary estimate and can't be confirmed.

Clean-up and recovery will take months for the thousands of residents who were affected. For those whose homes are complete losses, they will have to start anew.

Many residents in Bloomsburg said they've had enough. Some have already salvaged what they can from their homes and left for good. Others will do their best to clean up, sell their homes and move.

While most people on Albertson's street, including his parents, are moving away, he said he intends to stay.

Through teary eyes, he explained, "You get tired, and it starts getting the best of you. Then you suck it back in, and you start back over."

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