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One Year Later…
Thinking back to a year ago, the Flood of 2006 reminds me of the expression, “The good, the bad and the ugly.” I’ll begin with “The ugly,” first.
On Friday, June 23, a cold front moved over the state and with it brought rain to the region, and more rain, for the next four days. With the rain came warnings of “flash flooding” for Susquehanna County. Our Emergency Management Office began to alert local emergency coordinators, all volunteers I must add, to begin warning their residents and local elected officials of the upcoming grave conditions. It was estimated that 8-10 inches of rain had fallen over this time with Tuesday, June 27 as the day that changed many lives in Susquehanna County. I know that it certainly changed mine, and I was one of the least affected.
As we embarked on the opening of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), the room began to fill with experts; experts from the county, the state and eventually from all over the country. Phones began ringing off the hook with residents reaching out for help. Residents were fleeing their homes and businesses as streams, creeks and the mighty Susquehanna began to overflow their banks. Familiar roads soon became impassable and adults feared for the safety of their children, their pets and finally, themselves. I know this because I assisted in taking those frantic calls where everyone needed help, immediately. Fire departments, fire police, the first responders of the county, headed out to assist residents for what turned out to be perhaps one of the longest days of their lives. As for some, one nonstop day soon turned into days. Days of not knowing the status of their own families and their needs. Some residents were being evacuated while others were on rooftops, waiting to be rescued. Local coordinators called into our EOC with updates and the needs from their area of the county, while our 911 Communications Center was inundated with emergency calls. These calls were from residents cut off from their neighbors, as the yards and lawns that used to separate them were now engulfed with water. Stranded motorists called from cell phones after their vehicles had become immersed in treacherous waters. With so much water in the county, certain boroughs and townships were advised by those experts to not drink the water from their faucets. Public sewage facilities were underwater, bridges were washed away and roads were scoured. The county encompassed millions of dollars in damages, with a great deal of it to be a burden on those persons already experiencing the worst tragedy in their immediate lives. Farmers were affected as their crops were consumed by water. Mother Nature clearly did not pick and choose the victims of this storm, as some of the hardest working persons in our county knew it was too late to plant crops again given our short growing season. Local businesses that were affected were those very same persons that always helped others in need and now found themselves as the affected ones.
As for the “bad,” I must say that being a public servant was especially challenging during this disaster. The difference of reacting with what was in my heart versus what I was required to in my duties as an elected official proved to be frustrating. As calls came in from elderly residents that they were without food and electricity, I called upon local persons that I knew to ask if they could deliver meals to them until the Red Cross was able to reach them. Many of those “helpful” persons were also affected, but I knew them, I knew I could count on their generosity. The Red Cross lists were long and sometimes it wasn’t easy to reach those in need, but eventually everyone was taken care of. They even delivered clean-up kits, comfort kits equipped with an essential toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and other necessities. Local schools, borough buildings and fire departments opened their doors to the public with the offer of hot showers, meals and bottled water. The local organizations with their diligent and tireless volunteers seemed to run effectively and efficiently.
The slow manner of government still amazes me, as I found it frustrating to recognize immediate problems and needs and then wait for clearances i.e., state and federal disaster declarations and local governments to react. Projects that were obviously necessary and seemed to need immediate attention were on hold due to government regulations. Unfortunately, I even lost friends because I had to put the integrity of the process and entire project above what would have been the fastest solution for a few individuals. There were difficult decisions to be made and what was best for the county and taxpayer dollars had to be part of the equation. Because we live in a Commonwealth, we are governed by the grassroots – our local governments, being boroughs and townships. There was also the lack of communication and incorrect information being given out that hindered response and recovery activities. With that being said and given my frustration, I can’t even begin to imagine the frustration felt by those so cruelly affected. And the kicker was that ‘government’ was telling us we needed to have an adopted and approved Hazard Mitigation Plan in place for those most affected residents to be able to qualify for the “buyout” program. Taxpayers homes were washed away, uninhabitable and we, as commissioners, needed to act swiftly given that Susquehanna County had been in default for more than four years under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000.
And now for the “good.” Mid-July, 2006 brought an extremely concerned voice from 3,000 miles away to my ear. This voice was that of Donna Erat, a resident of Seattle, Washington, with family ties in Susquehanna County. Ms. Erat, a disaster specialist and former employee of FEMA for over four years, was offering to meet with us and clarify exactly what a Congressionally-mandated hazard mitigation plan would include and what she could do to help the county leverage and maximize federal funds under the disaster declaration. The county signed with Ms. Erat and she’s been on a very fast-paced, forward motion ever since. One year later, the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan has been approved by PEMA, and we are currently waiting approval from FEMA. At a recent “flood summit,” a FEMA employee stated that our plan was indeed the best one in the Commonwealth. As soon as FEMA approves the plan, 13 buyouts will take place and from that day on, your local government will be responsible for reviewing and updating the adopted plan to meet the needs of its immediate residents.
While the rebuilding process continues in the county, I know we’re much more prepared as a county and as individuals, for the next disaster to strike our county. It’s certainly not an appealing thought, but we must be realists after the Flood of 2006.
As we prepare for the future, I would like the public to know that the commissioners are meeting in July with state officials regarding the process of implementing a Stormwater Management Plan, which goes hand in hand with our county’s Comprehensive Plan and the Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP). As with the HMP, after the initial meeting, the county residents and elected officials will be asked to attend meetings to help with the plan. I encourage you to attend whenever you can.
At this time, I would like to THANK everyone that helped Susquehanna County through the Flood of 2006 and the year after. Susquehanna County is certainly a better place because of each of you. God Bless!
Old Madness, New Crazies
Increasingly, there seems to be only one way out of Iraq and that's through the side door, the one on the right that leads to Iran. But one simply cannot march into another nation with swords drawn; noble causes must lead the way. Saving the world from mad mullahs engulfing the Middle East in a grand Gotterdammerung of mushroom clouds sprouting up like toadstools is a pretty good one.
Trouble is, the atomic ayatollahs insist that developing atomic weapons is against their religion. The supreme Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a Fatwa – something like a ruling from our Supreme Court – stating that the production of atomic weapons is forbidden under Islam.
Now if, for example, the Pope were to publicly state _____________ (you fill in the blank), most reasonable people would believe him. After all, the credibility of his religion is at stake. Similarly, when the Supreme Ayatollah issues a Fatwa forbidding the development and use of atomic weapons, the well-advised would not sough it off. President Bush did.
The President insists that Iran is going full bore after A-bombs. But there's another problem, again it's the Iranians. Iran has agreed to suspend nuclear fuel-cycle activities if President Bush provides assurances that he will not attack their nation. President Bush has refused to give such assurances.
Iran countered: Then how about a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East? Bush: No deal
Another fly in the soup is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The watchdog agency has never found any evidence that Iran violated any of the provisions in the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty.
If development of atomic weaponry won't fly as a causa belli, perhaps a different strategy will get off the ground.
Here's one. Iran is responsible for our woes in Iraq, the increasing instability in Afghanistan, even the growing militancy in the Gaza strip and Lebanon. It is a rouge state supporting terrorists and smuggling arms into Iraq and Syria faster than the Mexicans are snaking smack into the U.S. (Bombing Mexico is another subject.)
Supporting the notion that it is Iran, not ourselves, to blame for the blowback in the Mideast is a Greek chorus urging payback. Vice President Dick Cheney (Bush's Rasputin) wants a "hot conflict." Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, imagines that "Iran's regime poses a profound threat to the United States... and across the globe."
Avigdon Lieberman, Deputy Prime Minister in Israel, also sees the world in peril. The other Lieberman, the senator from Connecticut, is also concerned about global survival.
Senator John McCain chimed in with an on-stage doggerel titled, "Bomb bomb bomb Iran." Charming.
But whither cometh the secret of Iran's world-cowering power? With less than 0.4 percent of the world's population, no nuclear weapons, no ICBMs, a military budget of 0.6 percent of the U.S., and an economy in tatters exactly how does she manage to menace the world? No one knows; she just does.
But Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA and Nobel Peace laureate, demurs. He warned that military action against Iran would "be an act of madness" perpetrated by the "new crazies who say [or sing], 'Let's go and bomb Iran.'" Quite so, Mr. ElBaradei, but that didn't stop them before.
New Milford, PA
TO THE EDITOR POLICY
Thank you, Susquehanna County Transcript
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