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From the Vault: News from the Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011 edition of the Press & Journal

Posted 9/13/17

SWEPT AWAY: First an earthquake, then a hurricane, then, seemingly out of nowhere, a flood unseen since the days of Agnes, overtakes the region with devastating effect.

Agnes has a brother. His …

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From the Vault: News from the Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011 edition of the Press & Journal


SWEPT AWAY: First an earthquake, then a hurricane, then, seemingly out of nowhere, a flood unseen since the days of Agnes, overtakes the region with devastating effect

Agnes has a brother. His name is Lee.

Smaller, but just as devastating. Weaker, but powerful enough to send streams to record frenzy. When Tropical Storm Agnes ravaged the Middletown area in 1972, she set benchmarks for flooding, for destruction, for misery. Tropical Storm Lee challenged them all.

Lee dumped 13.30 inches of rain on Middletown over four days - from Sunday, Sept. 4 to Thursday, Sept. 8, about an inch and a half less than Agnes, according to the National Weather Service. Still, Lee sent the Swatara Creek to a record high of 26.8 feet at Hershey, shattering the old record, set in 2006, by more than 10 feet.

He sent the Susquehanna River to its fifth-highest crest, 25.17 feet, more than 8 feet over flood stage. He overwhelmed storm sewers and culverts, flooded busy local roads and back streets, and sent residents scurrying from his murky flood waters.

He filled basements and ruined living room sofas and carpeting and family photos. He damaged bridges, knocked out power, threatened water supplies and submerged trailers and ranch homes and convenience stores.

His damage in Dauphin County alone topped $52 million, according to preliminary estimates by county officials. Municipalities were still assessing damage.

President Barack Obama declared Dauphin, Lancaster, Cumberland, Lebanon, York and 14 other counties in central Pennsylvania a federal disaster area, a designation that allows residents and business owners to get federal money to pay for temporary housing, home repairs and loans to restore uninsured or underinsured property.

Lee made us relive the dread we faced 39 years ago, a dread we had hoped we would never feel again.

Brenda Heffelfinger frantically piled belongings – shoes, clothing, knickknacks – atop cabinets and on shelves, hoping they would stay dry, as the flood water crept around her trailer in Jednota Flats on Wednesday, Sept. 7. Her husband Mike had grown up in Steelton’s West End – destroyed by the raging Susquehanna during Agnes – and this flood looked just as bad.

“It’s time, Brenda, it’s time,’’ he kept saying, coaxing her to leave. When the water approached the front door, she packed a couple bags full of clothes, grabbed the cat and pulled the decorative box holding her mother’s ashes from the curio cabinet, and they fled to a raft brought to the door by Lower Swatara Twp. firefighters.

The trip to dry land – no, to safety, for everything seemed to be drenched by Lee’s deluge – was bittersweet. As they floated away, they were not filled with relief, happy they escaped the threatening water. “You think of how many things you left behind,’’ said Brenda.

Flash floods swamped local roads, including Route 230 to Middletown’s west in Lower Swatara and to its east in Londonderry Twp. Deep water covered Front Street in Steelton, Memorial Park in Highspire, Route 441 at Fiddlers Elbow, the Airport Connector at the Linden Centre, Jednota Flats, lower Royalton, parts of Middletown’s Harborton Place trailer park, the 7-Eleven on West Main Street in Hummelstown.

Flood waters damaged the Market Street and Jury Street bridges in Highspire, the Grubb Street bridge in Middletown and Fiddlers Elbow Road bridge in Lower Swatara. They flooded the Mill Street substation in Middletown, forcing the borough to go without electricity for hours on Thursday, Sept. 8 until crews could switch the borough’s power supply completely to its Spruce Street substation.

Local municipal officials throughout the region urged residents to evacuate low-lying areas, and suggested residents boil water before drinking it as a precaution. Middletown officials asked residents to conserve water after flood water submerged three of the borough’s wells.

Mayor Robert Reid declared a state of emergency in Middletown on Wednesday, Sept. 7, while Highspire Mayor John Hoerner declared a state of emergency there, limiting residents to travel in the borough for “essential’’ business or their health and safety. Dauphin County’s commissioners declared a county-wide emergency the same day.

Shelters opened at I.W. Abel Union Hall in Steelton and the MCSO Building in Middletown, then closed in favor of a larger shelter at Harrisburg High School. Many residents were asked to voluntarily evacuate as relentless rain fell Wednesday and Thursday. The American Red Cross opened a smaller shelter Monday, Sept. 12 in Middletown’s First Church of God on West High Street.

In Hummelstown, flood water reached the roof of the 7-Eleven on West Main Street and upper floors of about 12 nearby houses.

No tax hike expected in Londonderry for 2012

Londonderry Twp. residents endured their first increase in real estate taxes in 14 years this year, but no increase will be needed to balance next year’s budget, the township’s manager says.

Taxes will remain at their current levels for 2012, predicted Manager Steve Letavic.

Letavic and the rest of Londonderry’s staff are putting together a preliminary budget for review by the township’s supervisors, and it appears likely that the real estate tax will be frozen at 2.93 mills for 2012, he told the supervisors at a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

In fact, no tax increase is anticipated for the next three years, Letavic said.

Supervisors raised the millage rate from 1.07 to 2.93 this year to make up for a $200,000 loss in earned income tax.

Middletown soccer team to honor state champs

The Middletown boys soccer team will honor former Coach Robert Stitt and Middletown’s 2001 boys’ soccer state championship team at halftime of its home game Oct. 1 against Northern Lebanon.

The state champs who attend will suit up one more time and play a friendly match against other Middletown alumni following the varsity game.

Headlines from the edition

• Raiders lose QB, but beat Steel-High, 14-13

• NRC appoints senior inspector at TMI