Sending a Message of Help and Hope
By Linda Unger*
September 9, 2011—Out of eleven districts in the Susquehanna Annual Conference, eight are severely affected by flooding after heavy rainfalls from Tropical Storm Lee caused rivers, creeks, and streams to overflow their banks, said Larry Siikanen, Conference Disaster Response Coordinator.
“I have two words to describe the situation here: Extremely Bad ,” Siikanen said on Thursday afternoon. “The flooding of our small streams and creeks is going down, but the big streams and rivers are overflowing.”
Most threatening was the rising Susquehanna River, which has its source in New York, ends in Maryland, and runs the length and breadth (thanks to its western tributary) of the Susquehanna Annual Conference.
More than 100,000 people in towns and cities along the river’s route were ordered to evacuate on Thursday. Some people, in isolated rural communities near Williamsport, had to be airlifted to safety by the Air National Guard, Siikanen said.
He indicated that the northern part of the conference, near Wilkes-Barre, had been heavily impacted by the rain and floods—for the second time in just over a week. “We were just beginning to get the houses that were hit by Tropical Storm Irene cleaned up when they had to be evacuated again.”
Ken Mengel, conference secretary of the Missional Board, said he and Siikanen had traveled last week to two small, rural towns, Forkston and Noxen, which had been especially hard hit by Irene. They brought hundreds of pounds of soup, beans, and oatmeal, as well as cleaning buckets and other equipment.
Mainly, though, they brought “a good message: that we were willing to help,” said Mengel.
That message will stand the conference in good stead, as the need for cleanup, repair, and accompaniment following this round of flooding is expected to be great. The conference has hired four consultants to help coordinate those efforts, once the floodwaters recede.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) had just supplied the Susquehanna Conference with an Emergency grant to facilitate the response to Tropical Storm Irene. Those funds will be used to acquire equipment, such as power washers, and to enable the disaster response consultants to reach those most in need across the conference.
Given the widespread effects of this round of flooding not only for the Susquehanna Conference but, also, for the Upper New York, New York, and Greater New Jersey conferences, it is likely that there will be need for additional support.
Siikanen anticipates that recovery will be challenging. “It will take a lot of effort and coordination,” he said, adding that he has heard the comparison being made to the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Agnes almost 40 years ago.
Nevertheless, he said, “Pennsylvanians are hard workers. They’re going to dig out and help each other out.”
*Linda Unger is UMCOR staff editor and senior writer.