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Remembering Hurricane Agnes flooding in West Pittston

Hurricane Agnes hit the Wyoming Valley hard in 1972, causing widespread damage and destruction. A West Pittston resident recalls the rising waters.

PITTSTON, Pa. — Low-lying areas along the Susquehanna saw some of the highest flood waters during Hurricane Agnes in 1972. While many remember the damage in Wilkes-Barre, a community miles north experienced significant flooding as well.

"You'd never saw anything like it in your life," said 91-year-old John Williams of West Pittston.

Williams grew up in West Pittston and has lived in the small community for most of his life. He distinctly remembers that day in 1972 and the 5 a.m. wake-up call for a neighbor warning him, his wife, and kids to evacuate. 

Steady rains from Hurricane Agnes lead to flooding. The water rose above the banks of the Susquehanna and covered two bridges between Pittston and West Pittston.

"A neighbor of mine, he was over in Pittston working, and the river went up. He had his wife and four children next door [in West Pittston.] He walked across the [rail] bridge over the railroad ties," Williams said. "You're stepping on them. The [water was] up to the bottom of the tie. It was nuts."

After taking his kids to a relative's house in Dallas, Williams returned home, later pulling an old wooden boat from a nearby shed and rowing past homes filling with water.

"Going down to York Avenue, most of the houses had flood water in them," he said. "Some up four feet, five feet." 

His aunts and uncle lived a few blocks south of his home on Washington Street. There, the flooding was worse. 

After trudging through waters to get to higher ground and shelter, Williams said one of his aunts realized she'd forgotten an essential item.

"I took the boat around to the front steps. She hops out with the two six-packs, gets in the boat. I took her through yards, over fences, and then we go over near Exeter Avenue," he said. "I pulled into somebody's back yard, and they were eating inside, and 'there's a boat in our yard.' She just hopped out with the two six-packs and down to my uncle's house."

While his home was spared, Williams said he'll never forget those moments and the destruction.

"It was so quiet. It was eerie," he said. "You didn't hear anything because the river went down this way and then circled around during Agnes."

Williams said it took months for the community to recover. He remembers his neighbors tearing out walls, shoveling mud, and replacing floorboards for weeks. 

To mark the 50th Anniversary of Hurricane Agnes, WNEP will have special live coverage Thursday, June 23rd, during Newswatch 16 This Morning, beginning at 4:30 a.m.

Later that evening, the News Station will air the special "Agnes: 50 Years Later" at 7:30 on WNEP 2 and streaming on WNEP.COM, Roku, and Fire TV.

Check out WNEP’s YouTube channel.  

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