The Freedom Valley Chronicles:
Hurricane Agnes - Part Two
June 19, 2018
This week is the anniversary of when a massive storm – Hurricane Agnes – hit Pennsylvania in June of 1972. According to a report prepared for the United States Department of the Army Corps of Engineers, the damage was extensive in the Freedom Valley and Montgomery County. This report was prepared by Gilbert Associates of Reading and dated January 4, 1973.
The report noted that Hurricane Agnes flooded this area on June 22-23, 1972. The total tangible damage was estimated to be $141,285,637 (1972 dollars) within the Schuylkill River Basin. This included areas from Schuylkill and Berks Counties through the Freedom Valley to the mouth of the river in the City of Philadelphia.
To put this amount in perspective, the tangible damage in the Schuylkill River Basin would have been an estimated $850,377,293 in 2018 dollars.
Tangible damage just in Montgomery County was estimated to be $57,709,888 (1972 dollars). This amount would have been an estimated $347,347,256 in 2018 dollars.
Intangible damages added even more to the cost of Hurricane Agnes.
Water services and sanitary sewer services were both out of commission due to the flooding in the areas up the Schuylkill from Conshohocken, according to the report from Gilbert Associates. Due to the lack of water and sanitary sewer services, industries in Norristown were ordered closed for about four days. Thousands were out of work until the businesses could re-open.
It must be noted that while damage was extensive in the Schuylkill River Basin, the damage in this region was modest – very modest – compared to the damage in other parts of the Commonwealth. Devastation was substantial in Wilkes-Barre, nearby towns in the Wyoming Valley, Harrisburg, and communities throughout the Susquehanna River Basin.
This photograph above shows the failure of the levee in Wilkes-Barre on June 23, 1972. According to the National Weather Service, “Residents of northeast Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley waged a futile sandbagging effort to keep the [Susquehanna] River from topping the levees. Sirens signaled the battle’s end with the late morning failure of the levee at Wilkes-Barre, and thousands of residents were forced to flee to higher ground.”
Part of Wilkes-Barre after Hurricane Agnes.
Flood waters from Hurricane Agnes devastated Smoyersville and other communities in
the Wyoming Valley of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
According to the report from Gilbert Associates, estimates on the extent of local damages in this section of the Freedom Valley were as follows:
Total damage was estimated to have been $4,779,743 (1972 dollars) in the Borough of Conshohocken. In 2018 dollars, this amount would have been estimated to be $28,768,564.
The bulk of the damage in the Borough impacted commercial and industrial businesses. That damage was estimated to have been $3,528,845 (1972 dollars); this would have been about $21,239,595 in 2018 dollars.
In the Borough of West Conshohocken, total damage was estimated to have been $1,070,801 (1972 dollars). That would have been about $6,444,992 in 2018 dollars.
As with Conshohocken, the majority of the damage in West Conshohocken was at commercial and industrial businesses. The $786,935 estimate (1972 dollars) for that damage would have been about $4,736,445 in 2018 dollars.
Damage from Hurricane Agnes was less in Plymouth Township than in the two boroughs. Total damage in this municipality was estimated to have been $254,175 (1972 dollars). That estimate would have been about $1,529,842 in 2018 dollars.
About half of the damage in Plymouth was at commercial and industrial businesses. The damage was estimated at $101,890 (1972 dollars); in 2018 dollars, that estimate would have been about $613,261.
In Whitemarsh Township, total damage from the storm was estimated to have been $1,150,339 (1972 dollars). The estimate of that damage in 2018 dollars would have been about $6,923,720.
Commercial and industrial businesses bore the brunt of the damage from Hurricane Agnes in Whitemarsh. Damage to this sector was estimated to have been $849,710 (1972 dollars); in 2018 dollars, damage would have been about $5,114,278.
The Spring Mill area of Whitemarsh Township suffered severe flooding from the rain of Hurricane Agnes.
Train service from Philadelphia to Norristown – through Miquon, Spring Mill, and
Conshohocken – was suspended due to the flood waters caused by Hurricane Agnes.
The Spring Mill Fire Company was one of a number of civic organizations that helped during Hurricane Agnes. According to the fire company’s website, “Hurricane Agnes swept through the area dumping several inches of rain. The [Spring Mill] Fire Company rescued people out of local factories as the Schuylkill River overflowed its banks and flooded the area. The members pumped out basements for 64 hours. Whitemarsh Township gave a plaque to the members for a job well done.”
The Spring Mill Fire Company Water Search Rescue Unit helped safely transfer
workers from factories along the Schuylkill to (almost) dry land.
Water flooded streets throughout Spring Mill and Conshohocken.
Commercial and industrial businesses throughout the Freedom Valley were devastated because of Hurricane Agnes.
If you have photos or recollections of Hurricane Agnes, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The three photos above highlighting a boat rescue by the Spring Mill Fire Company
may have taken place at the building that now houses David’s Bridal at 1001 Washington Street.
Another, more recent, view of the David’s Bridal Building in Whitemarsh Township.
The satellite image of Hurricane Agnes and the photographs of Wilkes-Barre and Smoyersville
are courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1972.
The logo of the Spring Mill Fire Company is from the Facebook page of that fire company.
The photographs of Spring Mill are courtesy of Mr. L. J. Hyer.
The photos were taken by his father, Mr. J. L. Hyer, in June of 1972.
The first photograph of the David’s Bridal Building is courtesy of Montgomery County, 2011.
The second photograph of the David’s Bridal Building is courtesy of Google, 2017.
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© 2018 Richard McDonough