Friday, June 22, 2012


Agnes at 40



By Anthony J. Mussari, Ph.D.

Someone once wrote: Today we study the day before yesterday, so that yesterday will not paralyze today and today will not paralyze tomorrow.

With this in mind, it is instructive and wise to look back at June 23, 1972, with an eye for today and tomorrow.

Without question, the Agnes Flood had a powerful and lasting impact on our county, our city, and the lives of everyone who lived here. It not only proved that nature and man can never be fast friends, it also proved that people have an indomitable will to survive.

Those of us who were alive during Agnes remember the heroic battle against the Susquehanna River that brought 10,000 people to the dikes to sandbag; the army of volunteers who served flood victims at 81 disaster evacuation centers; the sounds of helicopters overhead; the emergency sirens on the ground; the roar of diesel engines powering huge army trucks; the cry of babies and people hurrying to safety; the pitiful moans of the elderly and the sick; the scratchy sounds of the emergency broadcast network; silence of the telephones that would not work, the stillness of neighborhoods waiting to be destroyed.

We remember the sights of June 27, when we returned to the flood damaged neighborhoods. The flood waters covered 225 miles of streets with thick mud giving every home and every street an eerie sepia tone. Veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, compared the damage in these neighborhoods to the damage they observed in places like Dresden after the blitz, Inchon and My Lai.

We remember the interminable wait for help, the long difficult struggle to make our case nationally and in Washington, and the maddening inefficiencies of a bureaucracy that was not prepared, in any way, for a disaster of this magnitude.

As vivid as these memories are, they are but one important part of the story. Of equal significance was the response of individuals who wanted to help themselves and others. In my mind’s eye, the Agnes Disaster is a story of genuine heroism at the ground level. These are but a few examples.

Dorothy Tribus saved the life of infant Michael Reilly, who was born 10 weeks premature. The GAR Evacuation Center in Wilkes-Barre was managed effectively by Leo Solomon and staffed primarily by volunteers who were teachers and employees of the school district.  They cared for 700 people day and night.

Across the river in Dallas, Mercy Center treated 5,161 cases.  Fifty-two babies were delivered and 20 people were cared for and nurtured as they made their way to the other side.

Judge Max Rosenn created the Flood Recovery Task Force.

Min Matheson started the Flood Victims Action Council.

David DeCosmo put together an emergency broadcasting network. Marie Carpentier and Kitch Loftus destroyed the glass ceiling in radio and TV broadcasting for women, opening the way for others who would follow.

Again and again the flood victims themselves demonstrated the courage, resilience and grit that inspired others to keep moving forward.

Looking back on this time of destruction, danger and uncertainty, my most vivid memories are stories of heroics on the part of thousands who suffered much during the flood and after, stories of good humor and good will that helped people cope with the carnage.

On July 4, 1972, I wrote these words for a TV editorial:
When I think about all that has happened and the admirable way the people have responded, it all comes together. Americans seem to thrive on challenge, and the people of this valley are not going to be undone by the challenges of Hurricane Agnes.

Today, 40 years later, we are protected by a levee system that has been tested and not found wanting, but we have other challenges that are difficult and will, like Hurricane Agnes, test our determination and resolve.

Let us remember the dark, troubling days of Agnes to get the inspiration we need to keep moving forward with resolve that our valley will always be a valley with a heart, a valley with a soul and a  valley that will preserve our past to guarantee our future.

The heroic men and women who lost much and suffered much during and after the Agnes Flood believed in themselves. They refused to give up and give in.  They had hope for tomorrow. They demonstrated what America is at its very best.  They gave truth to the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes:

It’s faith in something, and enthusiasm for something that makes life worth living.
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Copyright 2012 Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD
The Face of America Project
www.faceofamericawps.com
All rights reserved

Please provide feedback to:
tony.mussari@gmail.com



 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Support surges for Agnes flood film

Support surges for Agnes flood film; let's keep it flowing


The Times Leader
January 24, 2011

The Times Leader - January 24, 2011

By Alan K. Stout
Commentary

    SIX MONTHS ago, I wrote a commentary for The Times Leader's editorial page to commemorate the 38th anniversary of Tropical Storm Agnes and the ensuing flooding that destroyed much of the Wyoming Valley.

At the time, I expressed a desire to make a definitive, all-encompassing film on Agnes that would document exactly what our residents went through in June 1972 and how gallantly they fought to overcome what was then called the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

    Today, plans for The Agnes Anniversary Project, as we have named it, are in motion. And at its center is that film, which we have simply titled "Agnes." It is our feeling that the word - at least here in Northeastern Pennsylvania - needs no further explanation or subtitles. The project team includes Richard Briggs, producer/director; Tony Brooks, historical consultant; Anthony Mussari, consultant/narrator; and Frank J. Pasquini, funding consultant. Their respective biographies can be viewed at www.agnes1972.com.

    I am proud to be working with these men on this important endeavor.

    Since we first proposed the idea, much work has been done. We have worked with news archivists at the CBS, NBC and ABC networks and have unearthed some remarkable footage of Agnes that probably hasn't been seen in nearly 39 years. We have discussed the project with WNEP-TV, WVIA-TV, WBRE-TV and WYOU-TV, all of which have offered support and use of archived material.

    We have reached out to the original publishers of four pictorial books on Agnes and all have granted us permission to use photos from those books in the film. We have discussed the project with state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, state Sen. Lisa Baker and Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton. All have been supportive.

    We spoke before members of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association, which immediately voted to make a donation to the project. The Luzerne County Historical Society did the same. The Times Leader published an article two weeks ago on the goals of the "Agnes" film, and Sue Henry at WILK radio recently asked us to appear on her show to discuss the project.

    We have been encouraged by the interest and support. This has been especially evident since we unveiled the "Agnes" film trailer a few weeks ago on our Facebook page. Within days, the number of followers on the page reached several thousand. Older people expressed appreciation for the project. Younger people expressed shock at what they'd seen in the trailer. Hundreds of viewers posted comments. Some began to contact us, offering to share their photographs, home videos and stories.

    It has been inspiring.

    As the project gained momentum, I was reminded of a moment I had last summer when talks about the film first began. I'd gone for a long bike ride from my home on the West Side toward South Wilkes-Barre and Hanover Township, where I had lived as a young boy at the time of Agnes. About midway through my journey, the sky opened up and a heavy rain began to fall. I took refuge, of all places, under a covering at the River Common. It was a hot day with a strong, warm breeze, and that - combined with the pouring rain - made it feel quite tropical. On my iPod was some of the timepiece music, circa 1972, that I'd hoped to include in the "Agnes" film. And as I watched the rain splash upon the river while listening to those songs, I felt as if the past was speaking to me. And I felt compelled to try and make the project a reality.

    Now, I am starting to feel as if Northeastern Pennsylvania is speaking as well. Today, we are certain that the people of this region want to see this documentary and that they share our feelings on its historical and educational value.

    It would seem time is on our side, as we hope to finish the film by June 2012 - in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of Agnes. But that only applies if we can get working. And right now the project is still in great need of funding. To learn how you can help, visit www.agnes1972.com. And if you are on Facebook, consider becoming a friend of The Agnes Flood Anniversary Project.

    With the support of local officials, businesses and residents, we will make this film. And we will ensure that the legacy of Agnes and the great efforts to overcome it put forth by our parents and our grandparents will be properly documented for generations to come.

Compiling a flood of memories

Compiling a flood of memories


The Times Leader
January 9, 2011

The Times Leader - January 9, 2011

By Jerry Lynott
Times Leader Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE - So much has been written and reported about the devastating flood of Tropical Storm Agnes, yet so little has been done to put it all together as Alan K. Stout would like to do.

    It's his goal to use the books, newspaper clippings, newsreel footage, radio reports and recollections of the many people in the Wyoming Valley who remember June 23, 1972 to make the definitive documentary of what at the time was the nation's worst natural disaster. He plans to premier the work of the team he's assembled on the flood's 40th anniversary at the F.M. Kirby Center.

    "It's time to do this," he said last week.

    Personal experience drives him, as well as the desire to create something for future generations that tells the story based on the numerous, but scattered sources.

"I realized that there was great stuff all over the place," he said, adding it was never combined into a comprehensive package.

He was 4 years old and living with his mother on Carlisle Street in South Wilkes-Barre when they fled to higher ground at a nearby relative's house. His children are too young to understand the significance of the event and the documentary will ensure that they do.

    Anthony Mussari, Ph.D., was teaching at King's College and recalled sandbagging on River Street to try to contain the Susquehanna River. A maker of documentaries himself, Mussari signed on to be a consultant and narrator for the project.

    "I think it's very important it be done so that it be available for generations that are not even born right now," he said.

    Stout, who is Newspaper in Education manager at The Times Leader, presented his idea for the documentary in an op-ed piece published in the paper in June.

    He's taken on the role of executive producer and has begun collecting material for what he envisions is a 60- to 90-minute documentary. A trailer featuring some of the original national network news broadcasts is on the project's website, www.agnes1972.com.

    The project has a budget of $77,140, which he's trying to raise from public and private sources.

    One of the more than 50 documentaries made by Richard Briggs was about the flood and he's thrilled to address the subject again as producer/director of the project.

    He's embraced Stout's idea of drawing on multiple sources.

    "I have an approach," said Briggs. "It is to gather as much as I can."

    Rounding out the team are historical consultant Tony Brooks, executive director of the Luzerne County Historical Society, and funding consultant Frank J. Pasquini, director of capital resources for the Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry.

   

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lack of funds stalls 'Agnes' Project

Cash sought to produce Hurricane Agnes film


The Times Leader
December 27, 2011

By Sheena Delazio Weiss
Times Leader Staff Writer

The Times Leader - Dec. 27, 2011
WILKES-BARRE - With thousands of supporters and a host of footage and photos of the Agnes flood of 1972, a small group of volunteers hoping to produce a documentary of the flood is now struggling to find a way to make the dream happen.

Alan Stout, executive producer of the hopeful documentary, said that an application for a grant for the project from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council was denied. That leaves the group of volunteers little cash to actually produce the film - which they had hoped to debut in June 2012 - and asking the public for help.

"We have raised about $4,000 from local legislators and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs," Stout said. "It's a long way from the goal of our original thought. We are at a crossroads, and we feel the public needs to know that."

Stout, who is employed with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of The Bridge, has been working on the project for the past 18 months with Tony Brooks, executive director of the Luzerne County Historical Society; Richard Briggs, who has worked with the Public Broadcasting System; Anthony Mussari, a former professor at King's College and award-winning filmmaker; and Frank Pasquini, former director of capital resources for the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry.

The Agnes flood inundated several towns along the Susquehanna River in 1972, when the river reached 40.91 feet. Stout said local legislators Lisa Baker, John Yudichak and Eddie Day Pashinski have made donations to the project, and that four local television stations have offered all Agnes flood footage on file. The group also has support from 5,000 Facebook followers on its social networking page and has received hundreds of photos from supporters.

"We decided the project has too much historical and educational value to abandon it," Stout said. "But the project is in danger."

He said the documentary would be about 90 minutes in length and include liceenced film from the major networks and licensed music. The plan, Stout said, would be to show the film to area schools and have a premier at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre. The film would cost somewhere near $75,000 to complete, Stout said, and with only $4,000 accumulated thus far, the new goal of the group is to just finish the project.

"This is disappointing for us." Stout said. "This is not something that would have value only in 2012 (for the 40th anniversary of the flood), but a definitive historical documentation of the flood that has a value to generations to come."

*****

Want to help? To donate, visit www.agnes1972.com or www.facebook.com/agnes72 Or, call the Luzerne County Historical Society at 570-823-6244.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Agnes" movie trailer

A film trailer for the forthcoming film, "Agnes," which - should it receiive enough funding - will be released in June of 1972 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the great flood.
video

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Disaster we’d like to forget should be remembered with ‘Agnes’ tribute  

The Times Leader - June 20, 2010


By ALAN K. STOUT
The Times Leader
June 20, 2010

 NEARLY 38 years ago - on June 23, 1972 - torrential rains from Tropical Storm Agnes led to the flooding of the Wyoming Valley. Many of us are quite familiar with the events: The Susquehanna River spilled over its banks and into our neighborhoods, causing such damage that President Richard Nixon, who would later visit the wreckage, called it the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

Some people reading this might have been adults and homeowners at the time, and experienced great loss. Some were teenagers, old enough to realize what was happening, though not yet wise enough to understand its magnitude. Some, such as me, were young children, aware that something was wrong, yet unable to comprehend the devastation. And some readers, born after Agnes, have little knowledge of what actually happened that summer in their hometown and in other parts of Pennsylvania.

Some facts: Agnes, which previously had earned hurricane status, dumped an estimated 28 trillion, 100 billion gallons of rain on the upper Susquehanna watershed from June 21 to 23. In Pennsylvania, an estimated $2.8 billion in damage was incurred - translating to about $14 billion today. More than 68,000 homes and 3,000 businesses were destroyed, leaving more than 220,000 people homeless. In Luzerne County, more than 25,000 homes and businesses were either destroyed or damaged. Five bridges were washed away. About 80,000 Wyoming Valley residents were evacuated.

I was only 5 at the time. And I was one of those 80,000. I can remember June 23, 1972. Living in South Wilkes-Barre, I recall my mother telling me that we had to leave. If I recall, the sound of sirens filled the streets. It seemed surreal. But looking back, I know it was not. It was very real. My mother lost much of what she had that day. For my grandparents, who lived only about a mile away in Lee Park, the story was the same.

We spent that summer at my aunt and uncle's house on Strand Street in Hanover Township. It wasn't very far from our apartment - just a few minutes by car - and it was even closer to my grandparents' home. Yet it was just far enough up the hill that it was untouched by the water. For a child, the whole experience was actually kind of fun. My two older cousins became my big brothers for those few weeks, and what little boy wouldn't be excited by the sights of huge double-blade helicopters flying overhead and cool-looking army trucks roaming the streets? In the weeks after the flood, enormous bulldozers, dump trucks and street sprinklers seemed to storm down the roads at a constant pace, much to the delight of us wide-eyed kids.

But again, time - and maturity - have changed that perspective. Now, I wonder what it must have felt like to have been evacuated from your own home, leaving it behind and not knowing what you might find when you returned. Some people actually found their homes knocked right off their foundations. Some were completely gone.

There was nothing fun about any of it.

I remember the smell of wet plaster. And the smell of "flood mud." And friends living in trailers in their own backyards. I remember standing on my grandparents' front porch and watching my grandfather's favorite recliner being lifted by one of those huge bulldozers and dumped into the back of one of those giant dump trucks. What I can't remember, however, are many tears. Nor do I remember my mother or grandparents whining or complaining. Though people were shocked and saddened by what they saw, they rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

Immediately after the waters subsided, recovery began.

Across America in 1972, people were flocking to the box office to see the year's top film, "The Godfather." They were laughing along with the top show on television, "All In The Family" and a new show called "M*A*S*H." Songs such as "American Pie" by Don McLean and "A Horse with No Name" by America filled the airwaves. And here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, people worked to rebuild. And they worked harder than most of us probably ever have.

On Wednesday's anniversary of the flood, and always, we need to remember that.

I recently purchased some of the old books that document Agnes. I looked through hundreds of photos, and even though I actually lived through it as a child, it's still hard to believe it happened. When I showed the pictures to some of my younger co-workers, who weren't yet born at the time of the flood, they were awestruck. And one thing I've realized in thinking about all of this is that people my age, about 42, will be the last generation to remember Agnes. Though we were only children, we did experience it. And perhaps with that comes some responsibility.

Some people are disappointed that there is no real remembrance of the flood here in the Wyoming Valley, such as an Agnes museum. The old flood books are hard to find and video clips remain sequestered in the vaults of our local TV stations, shown only every few years on milestone anniversaries. Old radio broadcasts, some of which have been archived, typically can't be heard by the public. Newspapers from that time can be seen only on microfilm. Wonderful human interest stories exist, but they show up in different books, different news stories and different mini-documentaries that have been done in the past.

I'd like to see it all come together. I'd like to see one definitive, all-encompassing documentary film made on Agnes that combines those materials - and from which future generations can learn. Ideally, it would be completed by the 40th anniversary: June 2012. And then, once all the material is properly collected and the film is completed, perhaps an Agnes museum could be developed - a place where area school groups could go on field trips, where students could learn even more about what happened in their city and how their families fought through it.

Despite its strength and destructiveness, Agnes did not defeat Northeastern Pennsylvania. People lost valuables, homes and businesses, and a few even lost their lives. But the spirit of this community was not lost in the flood. It rose to the challenge. It got the job done.

On this anniversary, it is our job to ensure that the great flood of '72 - and the even greater effort to overcome it - is never forgotten.