Hurricane Agnes Hits the Eastern Seaboard

About Hurricane Agnes which hit the eastern seaboard in 1972 causing disaster and destruction in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington D.c.

HURRICANE AGNES

In typical hurricane fashion, Agnes began its short but active life in a playful rather than vindictive mood. Then while growing and absorbing moisture from the saturated eastern section of the country, it turned vicious and struck southwest Virginia. In 4 days it loosed on Maryland, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and New York 28.1 trillion gallons of water--enough to fill a lake 2,000' deep by 67 mi. square. Agnes was the most costly disaster in history.

When: June 21, 1972.

Where: Maryland, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and New York.

The Loss: 118 people dead; 330,000 homeless; 2,400 farm buildings destroyed; 5,800 businesses devastated; 25 cities in 142 counties damaged or destroyed. Crop loss $132 million. Property damage above $3 billion.

The Disaster: By Wednesday, June 21, Agnes was approaching southwest Virginia, bloated with moisture and bent on creating havoc. It started when Agnes dumped excessive moisture into the already full James River, causing it to overflow and flood Richmond's water filtration plant. Portable filtration units were trucked in from Camp A. P. Hill to supply drinking water for 250,000 in the capital. A number of storm-battered bridges collapsed. In Alexandria, Va., a shopping center burned. Fire trucks couldn't get to it because streets were blocked with debris. In Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna River flood-crested to destroy the executive mansion of Gov. Milton Shapp.

Navy helicopters were dispatched to Pottstown, 35 mi. west of Philadelphia, to rescue victims from rooftops. Wilkes-Barre, an industrial city thought to be safe, took the brunt of the storm; its dikes didn't hold. The Times Leader and Evening News editor, Jim Lee, was quoted as saying: "We couldn't bring ourselves to believe that the river [the Susquehanna] might break through." But it did just that on June 22, pushing "safe dikes" aside like they were made of sand. In Wilkes-Barre and Wyoming Valley, 13,000 homes were lost plus bridges and commercial buildings. Over 200,000 people were in need of rescue and relief. The heart of Wilkes-Barre became a polluted, foul-smelling lake. Wilkes College was flooded and severed electric wires started many fires that burned out of control; fire apparatus couldn't reach these.

A historic graveyard in a northern suburb gave up its caskets, sending them bobbing over floodwaters like surfboards. Looting followed the destruction of business districts and terrified rodents attacked humans. Public utilities were out of commission and manpower to do what was needed was lacking. Shock numbed the senses of survivors. It was too much, too sudden, for people to comprehend.

Aftermath: A million and a half pounds of food was air-dropped in Wyoming Valley. Clean-up work went on for months. Damage to U.S. and interstate highways ran $186 million, and to other road systems $382 million. The destruction was mind-boggling.

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