Hamburg Borough declared a State of Emergency due to flooding on Aug. 13.
“Just before 10 a.m., there was a torrential downpour that caused Mill Creek and Kaercher Creek to overflow,” said Hamburg Borough Mayor George Holmes. “There was also minor flooding in various locations throughout the Borough that had poor drainage or underground springs. In addition, water coming off the mountain east of Port Clinton Avenue caused widespread flooding, erosion, downed trees and damage to road surfaces.”
Flooding affected Port Clinton Avenue from Route 61 to Williams Street, Mountain Avenue at Port Clinton Avenue, Washington Street between 3rd and 2nd streets, Park Road, as well as North 2nd Street.
“The hardest hit areas were Washington Street between 2nd and 3rd streets and all along Port Clinton Avenue. It took approximately six hours for water to recede. At least 30 homes had major flooding of basements. A handful of properties had water on their first floor,” said Holmes. “Declaring an emergency is like sending up a red flag to county and state government. It is the first step in requesting emergency assistance from outside agencies and government. It also allowed us to shut down traffic on certain roads.”
During the flooding, Holmes said the municipal building experienced minor flooding which almost necessitated the police command center having to relocate in the middle of the crisis. “Fortunately we avoided this and were able to focus on life- and property-saving measures,” said Holmes.
While the vast majority of Borough residents were unaffected by the flooding, Holmes said neighbors are helping fellow neighbors who weren’t so fortunate.
“Government moves slow and is full of red tape- people helping people only requires a caring heart and good will,” said Holmes.
A few days after the flood, Hamburg residents were out cleaning up after the flood. On Washington Street where flood water had rushed down the street like a river and flooded basements, residents filled dumpsters with damaged items.
Nancy Boyer, mother of two children, said that on Aug. 13 her back yard was a swamp. She heard water gushing and discovered her basement filling up fast. There was no time to rescue any items. At one point, the water was chest high. Firefighters pumped the water out of the basement but a mucky mess was left behind as well as her water heater tipped over on its side.
“Traumatized, shocked, didn’t know what to do, panic,” said Boyer about her reaction to the situation on the day of the flood.
She hopes that Mill Creek blocking up and overflowing will be addressed.
“We all feel on this street (that) is what caused this,” said Boyer. “Never in nine years has it been this bad. I’ve never had a river in front of my house.”
Boyer and her neighbors are asking for help in the clean up and expressed concerns about lead contamination and what to do about cleaning up spilled oil in the basement. They were concerned about what their flood insurance would actually cover.
“I have flood insurance but nobody’s even calling me back to make an appointment to assess,” said Boyer. “Just today we received these buckets with cleaning supplies (disaster clean up kits donated by the Red Cross). What’s in here probably wouldn’t do even a foot of it. If you see it, it’s terrible.”
Now that the water has receded, muck coats the basement floor and walls. Everything that was in the basement has been destroyed, including the furnace, a chest freezer full of food, and her water heater. The oil tank spilled over also and Boyer was informed that she is responsible for cleaning it all up.
Neighbors gathered out along Washington Street to share their woes, frustrations and anger.
“One thing is everybody came together so it’s been unity but you can tell there’s a lot of frustration and worry about what’s going to happen,” said Boyer.
Mostly, Boyer said they want their voices to be heard in their plea for assistance.
“Somebody be able to come and help and assist with anything because it’s been a draining few days,” she said.
Boyer’s neighbors were cleaning out their basements, filling up dumpsters brought in by a resident hours after the water receded. The Salvation Army Hamburg also provided dumpsters further down the street closer to the foundry. Gratitude abounded from those affected by the flood on Washington Street.
Fighting back tears, Washington Street resident Marcy Donateli said, “I lost everything in my basement, childhood memories, baby stuff, time off from work. It’s been horrible.”
During the flood, Donateli said she watched the water rise over the hood of the cars and her car float away to a nearby parking lot. Inside, the water was calf deep in the basement within minutes. There was no time to remove any items as the water rose to chest high.
Donateli said a range of people live on Washington Street from elderly and disabled to families with young children.
“We’re hoping for some relief, even if it’s a little financial help because a lot of these people are switching out their appliances already because they don’t have flood insurance and don’t have coverage. It’s sad,” said Boyer. “Me, personally, I feel sick to my stomach because I don’t know what tomorrow is going to hold.”
Holmes has been walking through Hamburg everyday since the flood.
“I’ve been down to Washington Street everyday. I can see we’re cleaning up. It looks much better than it did on day 1 and day 2 and every day it’s going to get a little better but I know these things don’t happen over night,” said Holmes. “This is going to be a long-term process... They’re going to need some long-term help there and we’re going to have to be available and listen.”
Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-124, toured the flood damage in Hamburg Borough with Mayor Holmes and Police Chief Anthony Kuklinski on Aug. 15.
“The Mayor thought it would be a good idea for me to come down and see first hand the damage that was done by the flood here in the Hamburg community,” said Knowles. “People are very upset and anybody is going to be rightfully upset. We talked to people who lost things that are irreplaceable, pictures of family members who are deceased, personal items that cannot be replaced... They’re upset and want to get their lives back in order.”
Knowles said he observed that there was a considerable amount of damage to personal property and saw what an impact it has on people’s lives.
“We think of water in terms of taking care of ourselves, drinking and bathing and swimming, but we really forget about out-of-control water is a force to be reckoned to and it can do so much damage,” said Knowles. “There were cars that were literally floating down the middle of the street, floating on water. It’s upsetting. Your heart goes out to these people and my purpose in being here was to see first hand what damage was done but also to make certain that Hamburg doesn’t get lost. The damage was somewhat confined in terms of the area. There are other communities that have been devastated community wide. I just want to make sure that Hamburg doesn’t get forgotten.”
Knowles wants to make sure that state agencies take a look at the creek and make sure this doesn’t happen again and to be certain that Hamburg receives any resources that might be available through federal, state or county government.
“We need to do whatever we can do to help these people,” said Knowles, and regarding neighbors helping neighbors, he said, “I think that’s a real testimony to the people of Hamburg.”
Police Chief Kuklinski said Hamburg experienced damage to streets. When water came down over the mountain, it damaged the road surface in several areas and washed out areas on Port Clinton Avenue.
“After you get a devastating storm hit like this is to get the folks back to a sense of normalcy and get them the much needed assistance they may need to get back to their life, to get back to the way things were before the storm hit,” said Kuklinski. “Our folks are very resilient. I see a lot of neighbors helping neighbors which is big. I see our fire department out there giving 110 percent for hours and hours on end.”
Kuklinski said the fire department answered more than 150 calls for service for pumping out basements. The road crew has been out making repairs as well.
“When tragedy strikes, our folks combine together and do what they do best to get things back to the way they want it to be,” said Kuklinski.
Red Cross donated disaster clean up kits, which can be picked up at the Police Department at Borough Hall.
The Salvation Army Hamburg Family Store is collecting cleaning supplies, paper towels, bedding and used bath towels until Saturday, Aug. 18. Donations also will be accepted on Monday, Aug. 20, from 2 to 6 p.m. at the First Reformed Church on South 3rd Street, Hamburg. Monetary donations are also being accepted to assist the families affected by the flood. Please make check payable to: TSA Hamburg SC.
Salvation Army Hamburg is hosting a free event for those affected by the Hamburg flood at First Reformed Church from 2 to 6 p.m. on Aug. 20 to distribute free clothing, sheets and other materials.
“It’s exactly what we want to see. Community groups and neighbors helping neighbors,” said Holmes. “Whether it’s federal, state or county, I don’t know how quickly they’re going to be able to react.”
Residents are encouraged to check the Hamburg Borough Police Facebook page for updates and information.