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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tropical Storm Lee Stalls and Floods Athens, Pa. (ContributorNetwork)

FIRST PERSON | When Tropical Storm Lee decided to hang out over the southern tier of New York and Pennsylvania on Sept. 3, no one could have guessed what horrors lay ahead for Athens, Pa.

After a few days of steady rains, Wednesday became the catalyst for a tragedy. Athens received 3 inches of rainfall, which sent swollen creeks pouring into the rivers. The Susquehanna River began to rise half a foot an hour.

At 6:30 p.m., members of the Athens Borough firemen began to go door to door alerting residents to prepare to move fast. It was voluntary to leave at first. I grew up in this area and when Hurricane Agnes rolled through this area in June 1972. I saw the devastation with my own eyes. I was not sticking around.

I spent a few hours with my son Timmy, who is 19, and we put lots of things at least 3 feet off the floor. I prayed that 3 feet would be enough. When Jay, my boyfriend, came with the truck, we were ready to get out of town.

We left our home in Athens at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday and prayed that we would have a home to return to. We went to the home of Thomas and Diana McBride (my sister) on Laurel Hill, far away from the rivers. I thought my daughter and her husband were following us out, but they did not.

By 3 a.m. Thursday, they were evacuating the entire town while sand-bagging efforts on the banks of the Susquehanna failed. At nearly 5 a.m., my son sent a text message that simply said "I have Amber." Those were the longest two hours of my life. With my two older children safe and sound, I fell back to sleep.

By 6 a.m., most of the downtown area was under water up to the first floor. The rain was still falling as it had for a few days and it continued to fall until early afternoon. We watched the television with my niece Karmie and her son. We saw the horror unfolding in our town and many towns south of us as the raging river rolled south. A home flowing down the river, a soaked woodchuck clinging to a fence and two doe in the middle of the river are images I will never forget.

The water in town never crossed the railroad tracks where I live, my home is safe with no damage. Three blocks down homes are in ruins.

I am very thankful my home was spared because like many people in my town, I do not have flood insurance. Once we learned the dam upriver had held up, I came back to my home. My daughter and my grandkids were here waiting for me, fresh from a shelter. Amber, her husband Tim and the three kids are with us until power is on in downtown Athens. Their townhouse had some water, but they cannot go back until the power is on. They may be here a few weeks.

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