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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Flooding Leaves Residents Homeless

Al Melnick built his home along the bend in the Susquehanna River, where the water pools and bald eagles nest.

Great blue herons glide gracefully above the water.

Houses owned by people seeking relaxation line the dirt road next to the river.

But life on Myo Beach Road in Wyoming County is now exhausting and exasperating - the exact opposite of what attracted people to this small community just south of Route 6.

Almost four weeks ago, the river rose higher than any resident expected. Homes, some lived in year-round, others used as weekend getaways, were ripped off their stilt foundations and left twisted in the trees downstream.

Water has been high on this road before - but never this high.

Beyond the doors wrapped around trees and the propane tanks still caught in their branches, the river left people who remain uncertain of their futures.

Nine lives

Tish Saxon thought she lost her six cats in the flood. One cat, named Mary Snidely, was stuck between two boards in a tree high above the water. Ms. Saxon could hear her meowing for three days before the water was low enough to rescue her.

But Ms. Saxon's favorite cat, Puddum, was nowhere to be found. That was until Wednesday. Three weeks after the flood, Puddum suddenly appeared as the family sat around a bonfire next to their home's old foundation. Thirty minutes later, Cutie Pie, another of Ms. Saxon's cats, appeared as well.

Cutie Pie now will not leave the family's destroyed home, about 150 yards down the road from where it once stood. Ms. Saxon and her 13-year-old son are still waiting to learn how much money they will get from their insurance company to make any decisions about their future.

On Monday, Puddum followed Ms. Saxon as she walked to what was left of the home she moved into almost a decade ago.

"She's a great cat," Ms. Saxon said, picking her up and giving her a kiss.

Cutie Pie peeked out from a side door, quickly ducking back in as the visitors approached. Three kittens are still missing.

Need for heat

Down the muddy road lined with walnut trees that are shedding their shells, Al Melnick, 67, was chopping a tree that the flood had uprooted. He needed something to heat his gutted home that he is trying to repair.

With temperatures barely breaking 50 degrees on Monday, Mr. Melnick fears the winter ahead.

The trees he chopped were next to where his sister-in-law's house once stood. Her home was washed away by the river. His home was built in 1980 to withstand a flood like Hurricane Agnes, which devastated the region in 1972. Last month, 4 feet of water made it to his first floor.

He is staying in his RV at the Kiwanis Wyoming County Fairgrounds and hopes to have a bathroom and a room to sleep in before winter.

"You never get used to it," he said. "You just learn to cope."

Services volunteered

Electrician Wayne Thompson stopped at one home down the street, where the water was 18 feet from the bottom of its stilts at the height of the flood.

Mr. Thompson had been volunteering his labor to replace water-logged electrical systems, with homeowners just paying for parts. He has reconnected power at seven homes already.

"To come and see the devastation, a bomb has went off," Mr. Thompson said.

Tree trunks still standing bear scars from collisions with homes. Piles of debris - curtains, mattresses, broken mirrors - stretch along the puddle-covered road.

Nowhere to rent

About 10 homes are occupied year-around on Myo Beach Road, and many more are used as summer getaways.

Laura Vargo and her husband live in their home through the winter. For now, they are living in a motorhome in their driveway, along with their Schnauzer and Jack Russell Terrier.

With the home gutted, they will live in the driveway until the snow starts falling.

"Then we don't know what we're going to do," she said.

She tried to find an apartment to rent, but with the influx of natural gas drilling workers, monthly rent has gone from $600 to $1,200 in the area. And many do not accept pets, she said.

"How do you afford rent and pay the mortgage for a home you're not living in?" she asked.

Cause of stress

Ray Jacek used to call his fishing cabin a "survivor." The perfect place for a campfire and enjoying a "cold one," it withstood flooding from Agnes. Yearly flooding from spring thaws never required more than a good power washing at the bottom of the building's stilts.

Last month, water was half way up the shingles. Adjusters from his insurance company inspected the property Monday afternoon. Mr. Jacek, whose home is in Avoca, used to escape a more stressful life in the valley by fishing for smallmouth bass and walleye with family and friends.

Now, the cabin, right along the riverbanks, is the cause of his stress.

"It's usually beautiful," Mr. Jacek said. "Now it's like a war zone."

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