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Hurricane Agnes

By NOAA

Hurricane Agnes was only a Category 1 storm, but the flooding it brought with it resulted in an estimated $2 billion in damages and it claimed at least 134 lives.

It hit the Florida panhandle area on the 18th of June, 1972 and was felt throughout the region from June 15 to June 25.

Background

The most destructive, widespread flooding to occur in the eastern United States occurred in June 1972 as a result of Hurricane Agnes. Unlike some other flood producing hurricanes in the northeast, Agnes was not a particularly strong hurricane. In fact, most of its devastation occurred well after it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Agnes originated in the Gulf of Mexico and slowly moved up the east coast before moving northwest across Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York state. At this point, the remnants of Agnes joined another large low pressure system and continued to produce heavy rains.

The most significant destruction caused by Agnes, occurred in the Susquehanna River basin in Pennsylvania. The description below will focus instead on the impacts on the Genesee River basin in western New York.

During the week prior to Agnes, a large amount of shower activity resulted in widespread areas of over an inch of rain. Heavy rain from Agnes started on the night of June 20 and continued until the 25th of June. Over the Genesee River basin, the maximum official rainfall amount recorded was 13.7 inches at Wellsville NY. Unofficial reports of over 16 inches were also received.

On the upper Genesee, above Mt Morris Dam, flooding was devastating breaking all historical records. Both of the official river stage gages -- at Scio and Wellsville -- were destroyed by the flooding. Hundreds of roads and bridges were washed out by the flood waters. One significant factor in the damage was the large amount of debris flow that moved downstream which caused significant scour and damming along various parts of the stream channel. The Wellsville area was the hardest hit in the Genesee basin as a portion of Jones Memorial Hospital was destroyed by the flood.

The lower Genesee mainstream, from Mt Morris to Rochester, was spared the worst of the flooding primarily due to the operations of the dam. During the early part of the event, there was significant concern of overtopping the spillway or having to release such major amounts of water as to cause major downstream flooding. Overtopping would have been catastrophic in terms of flow, but also would have allowed significant debris that was caught by the dam to be released downstream. However, close monitoring and careful releases resulted in flooding downstream but not nearly to the impact that could have occurred. Maximum inflow to the reservoir was about 90,000 cfs; however, the outflow was limited to just over 15,000 cfs. While downstream damage did occur, the Corps of Engineers estimated that the dam operations during Agnes alone prevented over $200 million of additional potential damage.

Downstream flooding was also contributed to by tributaries, such as the Canaseraga Creek. Downstream of Dansville, flood levees were overtopped. The levees, which were designed to protect agricultural land, wound up causing problems since it took nearly all summer to drain the fields following the flooding.

Source: NOAA.

 

Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about Hurricane Agnes? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"I was eight years old at the time, living in a suburb of Washington, DC. I went on a field trip as a camper at Landon School Day Camp. I remember seeing the muddy Potomac lapping at the edges of road near the Lincoln Memorial"

--Anonymous

"Hurricane Agnes was the first hurricane I had ever witnessed. My family was on vacation in Panama City Beach, Florida. We did not know a hurrican was coming. Although evacuation was not recommended, we deciced to leave, as this was extremely frightening for all of us. I can still hear the intensity of the wind, and the crashing of the waves. Now, as an adult, I know that Agnes was a minimal hurricane. I cannot imagine going through a larger one!"

--giddygo

" I remember bits and pieces of Hurricane Agnes. It happened the week of my 8th birthday which my mother happened to have planned a surprise party for me. The party went on as planned.

I grew up in the suburbs of Harrisburg, PA, a place called Colonial Park. While we were not directly affected by the flood...we knew and met many people who were.

I remember very vividly the shelter that was set up at the firehouse. My mother was in the ladies auxiliary and I remember going day after day to the firehouse to help feed people who sought refuge there...I became friends with some of the children. I remember the feeling of being sorry for these people because they lost everything and I lost nothing. I tried to imagine what it would be like if I had to live without my favorite things. It was actually a very difficult time for a sentimental 8 year-old child.

Not only was my mother active in volunteering for the victims of the flood, and I along to help do what I could...even if it meant just being a friend to a child who lost their puppy. But my Dad also was very much in the thick of things. He is now a retired Master Sergant with the PA Air National Guard and I remember him being pretty much gone most of the time throughout the flood doing his job and what was needed of him.

I also remember my sister had a friend that lived a few houses up the street from us and her friends mother worked at a drug store in the city. When the flood waters finally went down, my sister went with her friend and mother to help with the clean-up of the drug store. She brought home for me a little metal box, one that holds 3x5 index cards, that survived the water. To this day, I still have that box (sentimental...I still am. I guess some things never change)."

--Lil Blueberry

"Yes Agnes tore Northern Virginia a new one. No water or electricity for two weeks. Took out a 100 year old bridge across the Occoquan river, and nearly submerged the town of Occoquan. Funny, my parents would not let me go out and play during the Hurricane, go figure? What a mess that was."

--Dave

"I was 6 years old that summer. My family had a place in Rehoboth Beach DE. The first day we went back to the beach, it was very windy and the water was choppy but the sky was deep blue-not a cloud in it. We just arrived and my mom and sister were laying out the blanket when I went to the water to dip my feet in. I was only in water up to my knees when I realized the undertow was paralyzing me. As big wave crashed and I was carried out to sea by a rip current. I was rolling underwater for the longest time - I couldn't find the surface. When I finally came up, I was way past the jetty. I had never been out that far, and unfortunately, I could only doggie-paddle. I was so scared, I couldn't speak. I was lucky enough to get the attention of two ladies who realized they were stuck too. They called the lifeguards and within a few minutes, we were all saved. My mom didn't realize it was me until they dropped me on the sand. I was grounded for the rest of the day. I don't know who the ladies were -- I think they must have been angels."

--Anonymous

"I was 7 years old when Hurricane Agnes (or the remnants of) showed up in the Finger Lakes of New York state. My grandparents owned a summer home on Keuka Lake and I remember the call that came from my Grandmother in the middle of the night. . . "the lake is flooded and it's a mess down here. " My Dad was packed and ready to go by sunrise. He left alone, a 2 hour ride from our home, just North of Buffalo. My Mom couldn't leave with him as my sister and brother were preparing for year-end exams. My Dad came back to Buffalo to pick us up for the weekend. I remember the morning we drove, it was raining and I remember my Grandmother praying that it would stop. Wow, were we ever packed in that station wagon!!

I'd never seen anything like it. . . dirty water everywhere!! We were more fortunate than most, the half-basement was completely flooded and the furnice was underwater, but the water didn't make it into the house. My Grandfather was overjoyed that he'd built-up the house foundation. All of our neighbors had water in their cottages and I remember the mud covering everything. To pass the time that day, my girl friend from next door played Barbie's in the car. I remember complaining that my Barbie couldn't go swimming that day!

It was almost 2 weeks before the water finally receeded and there were snapping turtles all over the grass! Swimming in the lake wasn't allowed for a very long time (not that anyone wanted to) with all the junk floating around. In fact, one of our benches from the front of the boathouse was found at the end of the lake in Branchport.

I have never experienced a flood of this magnitude since and hope that I never do again. For many years, I said a prayer for all those that lost everything they owned. I can only hope that in the years since, they've been able to rebuild their lives and haven't left behind the place where I call Heaven, Keuka Lake, NY. Thanks for letting me remember."

--Donna Jean

"My father worked on Cromby Station, a PECO plant on an island in the Schkuyill river. He didn't come home for days. . I remember listing to Norristown Radio WNAR all day and night. . and that old Acme Commercial " It's mainly because of the meat ( boom boom ) will be forever engrained in my head, as I worried myself to death about daddy as the plant became endangered. We lost phone contact at one point.

On the fourth day, he came home. He'd been airlifted out by helicopter, and a new crew brought in. I was never so happy to see him in my whole life as I was that day! I was 9 years old. "

--Anonymous

"While I now realize that for many people Agnes was a terrible disaster, for us youngsters in Fairless Hills, PA at the time, it provided great fun.

I was 13 , and along with my uncle (who is a year older) and some friends we had a great adventure. Some older guys had at one time constructed a large raft on Lake Caroline which they used as a swimming platform. We were forbidden by our parents to set a toe in the lake, much less swim in it, but we fished there often and I always wondered what it would be like to sit on that darned raft. Well, after the storm I found out!

The lake level rose so high that we were able to get the raft from its new perch on top of the dam, float under Oxford Valley Road and onto the public golf course across the street. The course was completely flooded up to the greens, nine little islands which we spent the day poling our raft between and swimming from.

Eventually we got caught up in the current of the creek which drained the lake. Looking back I'd say we were lucky no one drowned, because the guys who didn't bail out (me being one who didn't) were swept off of the raft by the now low hanging branches which were normally 10 or so feet above the creek. We all made it out of the water safely and in time to watch our little craft crash into a bridge and disappear under the current.

A fond memory from my youth!"

--HuckFinn

"We left our house as the water was breaking the basement windows. We had moved everything from the basement to the first floor, and then we had seven feet of water on the first floor. Our house was on the corner of Edward and Green street, and happened to be the lowest in our area. But the people across the street had a waterproof basement, and it was fine, until one of the bricks came loose. "

--Anonymous

"I was 10 when Hurricane Agnes wreaked havoc on Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. I remember going to buy candles at the Kings Department store when the air raid siren sounded. It was the eeriest sound that I have ever heard; it meant that the Susquehanna River had broken through the sandbags that were trying to hold it back. It meant that the river had won.

My dad took me down to the edge of the river and I remember sitting on the bank above the Luzerne County Courthouse and watching the water creep slowly and steadily up the steps. When this was all happening; downtown Wilkes-Barre caught fire and all we could do was stand and watch it burn.

The river was rising and fire fighters could not risk their lives to try to put it out.

All I can remember after the flood is the mud, mud, and more mud. Mud seeped out of records that soaked for days. Also was the utter devistation of entire towns along the river. The river didn't

take it's usual turn; instead it went thru the cemetary; nothing was sacred.

Wilkes-Barre's slogan became "A City With A Heart". We rebuilt and are going strong today.

Pamela Wolfe Gibson"

--Anonymous

"I had just turned 8 and was living in Silver Spring, MD at the time and all I remember is that I couldn't go out to play for a few days and didn't understand why. We had woods right behind our house and when I was allowed to go back out, I noticed the woods were a lot different with all the trees down. Until I checked this web site I had no idea where the storm had originated or its path after it made landfall (except that it went by where I lived).

Now, I live in Florida, and last hurricane season had 3 hurricanes come close, that were all higher than a category 1. We hadCharley, Frances, and Jeanne. Now, as an adult, I realize the devastion that these storms can cause, and as I type this Hurricane Katrina is suppose to be on its way to New Orleans. I pray for who ever that storm does affect."

--Anonymous

"My dad told us that we were in a good position, since we were on one of the highest points in Reston. But I remember hearing the winds and rain beating on the windows and feeling that the house would blow away. The eye passed over us.

Of course, the house stood firm. Lake Elsa, however, which was half a mile behind us, and on which people would boat on weekends, filled to the point that it overflowed on its drainage creek side. The flowing water then tore a hole in the lake, draining it completely. Years later, lakes Audubon and Thoreau were built in its place.

Interestingly, two weeks before the hurricane my brother and I "stocked" Snakeden branch behind our house with four bluegill. Afterward, the creek had been reformed, with eight foot mud slabs on the sides of pool that we'd stocked. I was surprised to see one of the bluegill plastered to the mud about five feet above the creek. "

--Scott Courtney

"I was 11 years old then. My family was staying at the Holiday Inn in Pottstown, PA for a few days. My father was being transfered to the area so my parents were in search of a house. I remember alot of rain coming down but it was time for my mother, brother and me to get back to Sharon, PA. We started our journey , by car, and several hours into it we were forced to make our way back to Pottstown due to just about every road being flooded.

When we arrived back to the Holiday Inn I was fascinated by how high the water had risen. I took off on foot alone and wandered along the railroad tracks and just couldn't believe what I saw. This part of town was under water!

Well quite some time later I found my way back to the hotel to find my mother hysterical cause I had dissapered. Many people were looking for me , including the police, because I was young in a town I didn't know and the town was flooded but I was fine. I just had to see more.

As I approached the Hotel my mother saw me and ran towards me and hugged me tight. Afterwards I thought she was going to kill me herself for putting her through that. I assured her I was Ok and just wanted to see the water.

My family still lives in the area and I still think about Hurricane Agnes when I travel through Pottstown and what I did when I was 11 years old!"

--Jim

"I was 7 and my brother was 8 years old when we experienced Agnes' fury. We lived near the Susquehanna River in SE Pennsylvania. We were returning from a beach excursion in Maryland and had to cross a stretch of what used to be a road through pastureland. The small stream normally under the road was now a raging river going over the road.

My father had no fear and crossed in our Ford T-bird telling my mom to grab me as he held my brother tightly. I remember seeing water coming into the car from underneath! We made it through while we saw other cars floating past us! It took several days before we could return home because the flood had taken out all the bridges leading to our part of the county.

Some of those bridges were 100 years old or better. I will never forget that scary time. P. S. I now live in the Rocky Mountains!"

--Anonymous

"I was 8 years old at the time of Hurricane Agnes and my family and I lived in Rockville, MD. At one point during the course of the storm our entire neighborhood was evacuated because of the creek that ran through the small woods in our back yards; which had started to flood many of the yards on our street. The old Rockville Mall was being used as an evacuation point and that's where we spent most of the day.

As a young child I obviously didn't realize the seriousness of the situation, because my brother and I thought it was lots of fun taking rides on a golf cart with the other kids in the parking garage in Rockville Mall. I also remember when we finally were allowed home that many backyards on our street were flooded and finding my father sleeping downstairs after having worked a very long day as a photograher for WJLA-TV7, chasing down stories for the news updates."

--Bill McD.

"I was 9 years old and we lived in Annandale, VA near accotink creek. There were houses next to the creek and the creek, which was normally about 15 feet wide, was about 200 feet wide and covered the street in front of the houses. I remember seeing all of the rescue speed boats in the water in the area. There was one house right next to the creek where a woman was trapped in her attic.

The rescue team tried to get her out by having her hold onto the power lines that attacted to the house from the power pole next to the street, but she lost her grip and was swept away by the water. They later found her body about 2 miles down the creek. I will never forget the experience."

--Anonymous

"I was 11 years old when Hurricane Agnes hit Larchmont, New York. I remember walkng down to the village with my brothers for pizza at Nicky's. Shortly after we arrived the storm came in. It began lightening and raining. My dad had to come and pick us up. I remember the water cascading into the street as we drove home. The car was literally bobbing like a raft as we proceeded up hill in the stationwagon. As we drove by a transformer, lightening struck the pole and exploded.

When we arrived home, my mother was running around placing towels on window sills to keep the water out. We lived in an old house built in the 1920's. I remember asking my mom about the storm. She told me "the storm was a baby hurricane. " I never thought until now, it actually was a hurricane!"

--Stephanie

"I was 16 years old when the remnants of Hurricane Agnes flooded the Chemung and Susquehanna rivers near to where I lived in Waverly, NY. There was some concern that the dam to the Waverly reservoir, located above the town, was going to break. Fortunately it held. My best friend, Kipp, and I rode our bicycles down to Sayre and Athens to get a closer look at the flooding. We almost got trapped by the rising water. In order to get back home, we had to cross a street that had suddenly become a shallow river of fast moving water. We had to stash our bikes behind some bushes in front of a house, hoping that they would still be there when we got back, and then cross the street with the help of a rope provided by the fire department. Remarkably, the bicycles were still there when we returned a few days later.

I would like to mention one other consequence of the flood - one that had a major impact on the direction of my life. My parents were out of town, attending a family Bible conference. They had wanted me to come along, but I did not want to go. So I was staying at my friend's house at the time of the flood. In order to get my parent's permission to stay with my friend, I had to agree to check in with our pastor once each day to let him know I was OK. A few days later my friend's grandmother passed away, and he and his family had to leave town. Due to the flood, a number of phone lines were down, and so my pastor could not reach my parents to find out if it was OK for me to stay at another friend's house. So my pastor sent me to the Bible camp to join my parents. It was during that week at Bible camp that I made some decisions that ultimately resulted in my going into pastoral ministry. "

--Woody

"I was in a house right on the occoquan River as a 7 year old kid during Hurricane Agnes. Had the dam broke we would have surely drowned. I have been in Texas for 30 years now and there's not much flooding other than flash flood. Fireman acuyally got us out of the house at night and evacuated us to the McDonalds in woodbridge for fear of the dam giving way. Had that happened it would have been catastrophic."

--Anonymous

"I was 5 when Agnes came through Northern VA. My family of 7 brothers and 2 sisters, we grew up on the Occoquan River in Woodbridge. I remember standing at the top of the some 75 steps leading down to our dock on the Occoquan, and watching as the water swiftly moving and rising. I thought it was awesome. My Dad's parents had a home on Devil's Reach Rd which was one street over from ours but on higher ground. I vividly remember sleeping horizontally on one of the beds with 4-5 other siblings. Not sure what was going on, I knew from the stress from the adults that it was scary but I was with my brothers and sisters which made it all better. The little town of Occoquan was literally destroyed but luckily our home weathered well. We did have to replace the shoreline and dock though. I remember my brothers all chipping in to help replace the retaining wall with Dad. "

--Mary

"Rain, rain and more rain. My hometown, Harrisburg PA (Allison Hill area) was hard hit. Everything was under what seemed to my 10 year old mind to be 20 feet of water. I distinctly remember sloshing through muck and mud to help clean up or school and church and being fed bologna sandwiches by the American Red Cross. Our home, fortunately was directly above the flood. . . one hill behind us and then the water. I remember walking on a train bridge above the flood waters and the bridge was actually swaying (didn't think too much of it at 10 years old. . . today I would have gotten off that bridge!). I can't imagine the water with wind and destruction thrown in. "

--Anonymous

"I was 9 when Agnes hit my corner of Northeast PA. My hometown of Athens sits at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chemung Rivers and when the rains came it didn't take long for the whole town to flood. I remember my parents saying we were lucky because we lived on higher ground and we just had our basement flooded and our porch washed out. Main Elementary downtown had water up to the third floor, which for a 9 year old was pretty cool. Still, it was devastating and took the town a long time to recover. I don't get back there much, but 'ol Athens is still there and one heck of a nice town. "

--Terry T

"Who did we blame for the wrath of Agnes? In the summer of 1972, as a mother, wife and Central Pa native, I suffered through a tragedy that affected millions of Northeasterners, of every race, religion and political persuasion. The hurricane itself was a mere Category 1 but the path of destruction it left made history, particularly as the Susquehanna River rose beyond flood stage.

The neighborhood where I grew up is "gone". There is nothing there as all the houses in this poor, blue collar, multi-ethnic, multi-racial neighborhood were bull dozed down. The "West Side" disappeared forever. I cannot take my children or grandchildren to the street where I lived. I cannot show them where my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents lived. My neighborhood is "gone" as are probably many others that were affected by the flooding produced by this storm.

I remember going there after the waters receded. River mud, sewage, personal property lined the streets in piles. Buses full of Lancaster County Mennonite families came with buckets, mops, brooms and bagged lunches to do "God's work" by cleaning out the homes, one by one. Quietly they came and quietly they left. They did not come by order of any government agency, whether it be local, State or Federal. Ironically, I don't remember having any such agencies to wait for, criticize or blame for the tragedy that Agnes left in it's path. The Red Cross came to help and I'm sure that much later, the relocation process of this entire section of Steelton, PA became a state and federal effort.

We all helped ourselves and looked out for our friends, neighbors and strangers. That has been the basis of our democratic society. What on earth has happened to that mindset in the 33 years between Agnes & Katrina?
[Editor's note: Ask FEMA director Mike Brown, the former college roommate of George Bush Jr.'s campaign manager who had no experience with disasters (but plenty with Arabian horses) before he was hired in FEMA as a political favor. It was the FEMA leadership that told the Red Cross not to go into New Orleans (and they still have not some 11 days after the hurricane) and turned truckloads of volunteers and supplies away (unlike in your situation), making the wrath of Katrina far worse than it would have been. "Ordinary" Americans are good people who help people in far away lands devestated by tsunamis or in neighboring states devestated by hurricanes. Of course most people on this planet are the same way, as evidenced by the world's response after 9/11, the tsunami, and Katrina.]"

--Anonymous


 

DISASTER DETAILS

Satellite photo of Agnes from June 19, 1972

Courtesy of NOAA

Date(s): June 19-29 1972

Location: Florida to New York

Deaths: 134

Injuries: 

Damage


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