WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — At the time, the Agnes flood was the worst natural disaster in the history of the US. It took more than 25 years to take action to prevent another Agnes-type flood in the Wyoming Valley.
Even after the passage of 50 years the haunting sights and sounds of the Agnes flood still amaze people and bring back memories of a dark time that forever changed the Wyoming Valley.
After a half-century, the question remains can it happen again? The short answer flood control experts say is yes.
15 miles of levee and flood walls were raised 3 to 5 feet in a massive project that was launched in 1996 and completed in 2005.
This is to protect against an Agnes-type flood Jim Brozena was a Luzerne County Engineer and oversaw the project. He then was director of the Luzerne County flood protection authority.
“The levees do a great job reducing it as much as possible. But one of the lessons we learned in 2011 was that everybody believed that there was a lid on the river. It could not go any higher than Agnes, we found out it can,” stated Brozena.
Tropical storm Lee caused the Susquehanna River to crest at 42.66 feet. That’s 1.75 feet above the tropical storm Agnes level. The levee did the job, however, Brozena points out.
“What we have found is because of the number of large storm events since 1996, that’s what we call the big flood, the 100-year flood is going to increase by three feet. So the levee that we have designed for to hold back Agnes. Agnes is no longer the storm of record,” explained Brozena.
Brozena offers this advice to anyone living in a community protected by the levee system.
“Well I think you need to be confident in it but you also have to take responsibility for managing your own risk and the way that you do that is living behind the levee you purchase flood insurance,” Brozena said.
For the full interview with Jim Brozena watch the full video below.
Chris Belleman is Executive Director of the Luzerne County flood protection authority which oversees and maintains the levee system.
“In September of 2011, we had the tropical storm, Lee. If the levee raising project never occurred the valley would have been destroyed a second time in a generation,” said Belleman.
Belleman says the future of flood protection across the country does not entail building higher levees or flood walls.
“You are really not seeing the construction of a new flood control system really anywhere. I mean the trend now is to make existing systems more resilient,” explained Belleman.
For the full interview with Chris Belleman watch the full video below.
Andy Tuzinski is the former mayor of Forty Fort he lives near the levee and remembers all too well the close call in September of 2011 and lived through Agnes in 1972.
We asked Tuzinski where the levee stands in 2022, 50 years after Agnes is there concerned about it happening again.
“I have the utmost confidence in the levees on which we are standing. The only way that I see that kind of flooding might occur if this levee were to be topped,” said Tuzinski.
For the full interview with Andy Tuzinski watch the full video below.
The week will culminate with a one-hour special presented by eyewitness news at 7:00 p.m. On Monday, June 20 on WYOU.