Thousands are returning to homes and surveying damage in central Pennsylvania after the flooding triggered by Hurricane Lee. Some of them are wondering if the damage they are facing now was made worse by the mitigation efforts that followed previous generations' floods and storms. What if the levees that saved some cities created the floods that have now inundated neighboring towns?
That's the verdict from some small towns in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called in 1979 for raising levees in Wilkes-Barre by three to five feet after Tropical Storm Agnes, it cited the nearly $3 billion in damage that storm had caused to justify the expense. In essence, shoring up the flood-control system in the city of 42,000 in the heart of Pennsylvania coal country would cost less than would repairing houses and businesses after another catastrophic flood, engineers said.
But in a handful of smaller neighboring communities on the river's west bank - West Pittston, Plains, and low-lying Jenkins Township - the figures didn't add up.
It was there Friday that agitated murky water crept to the rooftops, National Guardsmen launched rescue efforts from second-story windows, and the torrent rose much higher than anyone predicted as the remnants of another tropical storm - Lee - pummeled one of the most flood-prone regions in the United States.