The “Valley” has always been a small town community where everyone knows everyone else, neighbors look out for one another, and generations of families are still able to gather for Sunday dinners and holidays without ever having to travel more than a few miles. Thirteen years ago, I felt I had “outgrown” the seemingly “lost in time” allure of my hometown. Like many who left, I spent the last 10 years trying to move back. This past Spring, I finally moved “home” again. Home, to where the same people you saw every day on the playground are the same people you still sit next to on the bleachers and encourage the local football rivalries.
On September 8, 2011, that all changed. The community watched helplessly as neighbors and friends were forced to flee their homes amidst emergency evacuation sirens and rapidly rising flood waters. The water rose so much quicker than expected, that the majority of those who lost their homes did not even have time to leave with anything more than the clothes on their backs. Throughout the night, emergency teams worked restlessly to rescue their friends and neighbors from homes—some with 4-5 feet of water already inside their first floor. The entire downtown area, along with many other local neighborhoods, was completely under water. Over 3 weeks later, there are still more than 800 families without homes. Volunteer groups from all over have found it in their hearts to help rebuild this community, but, sadly, the largest groups and media attention have been focused on the larger cities to the north and south.
Before this disaster hit, the area was already suffering a major housing shortage. The introduction of the gas industry brought, along with the hope of economic recovery, an influx of new employees who rapidly occupied any available housing. Now, with so many displaced survivors (many of whose relatives all lost their homes as well) are sleeping on floors, in basements, and sadly, in pop-up tents as temperatures are starting to plummet. While FEMA has been there, there still has not been a site determined to set up housing.
The community is mostly surviving on its own. Neighbors and families desperately working day and night to cleanup, teardown, and rebuild each other’s lives. The streets are lined with debris piles so deep that cars can barely get through even though the waters receded weeks ago. Elderly couples cling to each other amidst the rubble of the only home they’ve ever known. Young children cry helplessly, too young to understand why they can’t return home, let alone go see their house to just pick up their favorite stuffed animal. Many homes are still without power, and the dwindling of daylight hours makes the amount of time to work on the homes shorter and shorter every day. The community refuses to give up, though. Strangers helping strangers, enemies now working side by side, small businesses barely making it are donating food, supplies, and time that they don’t have--it’s a true testament to the spirit of small town America. Even those who have lost literally EVERYTHING they’ve ever had are donating time, money, and supplies to those who need it. They recognize that someone is always worse off than they are.
Please help our community, which was just beginning to see a bright future again, come back stronger than ever before. Help us to rebuild our lives sooner than later. Help get the homeless to stay out of the cold Northeastern PA weather and back in their homes.