It came close, but the Susquehanna River never quite reached the top of the 41-foot levies that protect the city of Wilkes-Barre. “The levee system worked pretty well. There are still some questions about it over time,” says Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), who toured the damage this morning with Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA). “The smaller communities that didn’t have that kind of protection – West Pittston comes to mind – they have very high water, sometimes as high as the second floor.”
Stress on the levee system is a top concern for Luzerne County Commission chair Maryanne Petrilla, but there are others. For instance: boils. “The ground is so saturated that the river water is going under the levee and coming up in… we call it a boil, if you can imagine water boiling outside the ground.” Local officials are combating the boils with truckloads of stone.
For now, some 65-thousand Wilkes-Barre area residents remain under evacuation orders. “We realize they want to come back home, but they just can’t, it’s not safe yet,” Petrilla stresses. Also, it’s too early to talk damage assessments. Petrilla says that will have to wait until next week.
Downriver in Dauphin County, the commissioners are already turning their attention to the recovery phase of emergency operations. “We have teams that are going to be going out looking at infrastructure. Starting Monday morning, the county’s engineering team will be looking at all of the bridges to make sure they are okay. We’ve been working with PennDOT for an assessment on our local roads,” Dauphin County Commission chair Jeff Haste said at a Friday afternoon briefing.
Haste says the recovery effort is going to be long, tedious and costly. He also urged residents to use caution as they come back to assess the damage. “Make sure the water has receded. The water that is out there is toxic water. Even when the water has gone down, there’s still going to be petroleum in there, there’s still going to be solid waste laying around.” Two wastewater treatment plants disappeared in the floodwaters this week.