PLYMOUTH, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Everyone whose life was upended by the Agnes flood has a story to tell about how their life was changed forever.
Among them is a veteran newspaper journalist with the time’s leader whose career dates back to the 1970s who shared his story of going from flood victim to flooding cleanup coordinator.
Bill O’Boyle retraces his footsteps on the 500 block of West Main Street in Plymouth for the first time in 50 years. He hasn’t stood here since that fateful night in June 1972 when disaster struck.
“We were awakened in the middle of the night by the Army Corps (of Engineers) coming downtown telling everybody that the dike was compromised, water was coming through and everybody had to evacuate and get to higher ground,” stated O’Boyle.
21 years old at the time and living with his widowed father, the two men rushed out of their apartment with little else but the clothes on their backs.
With the Susquehanna River about a quarter-mile from their home, they would days later witness the devastation of the floodwaters.
“We could see the water was still here. Very high. Probably up in the second-floor area,” said O’Boyle.
The flood wiped out all of their possessions including what can never be replaced. He and his dad were forced to build a new life.
“I’m not unique. This is what happened to everybody who was in this flood. Not just us,” explained O’Boyle.
O’Boyle and his father moved to higher ground — staying first with his aunt before one of the government trailers for flood victims was made available to them here off Henderson Street.
“This is where I was living as I was trying to find my way in life so to speak,” O’Boyle said.
It was weeks later after floodwaters receded in Plymouth when O’Boyle was approached by then borough Mayor Edward Burns who asked O’Boyle what he was doing.
O’Boyle said ‘Nothing, like everybody else.” Burns said, ‘Come on inside Town Hall. I’ve got a job for you.”
That job? Help organize a borough-wide flood cleanup, a job for which O’Boyle had no prior experience but was eager to help.
“I said what we’ve got to do is prioritize a list. So elderly people, people without family, people that needed help. We will put them at the top of the priority list,” explained O’Boyle.
Cleanup volunteers were paid $20 a day. Their job was two-fold.
“Take everything that the people didn’t want out to the curbside and pile it up because the Army Corps (of Engineers) would come down, load it into dump trucks and then take it off to landfills or whatever but then they would try to clean the interior and make it liveable again,” O’Boyle stated.
Roughly 200 volunteers essentially went door to door helping even businesses get back on their feet.
“So I sent them down here to Mr. Angelo Grasso who owned the factory,” said O’Boyle.
United Pants Factory on Beade Street was one of those businesses.
“They worked here every day for weeks and got this place cleaned up,” said O’Boyle.
The work that summer of the Agnes flood was not without risk in unsanitary conditions but it works 50 years later O’Boyle is proud to have had a hand in it.
“Doing what’s right for the community and the people,” O’Boyle said.
For the full interview with Bill O’Boyle watch the 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.