Heavy rain from Tropical Storm Isaias flooded roadways and overflowed creeks in Berks County on Tuesday, Aug. 4.
Kutztown and Fleetwood closed streets due to the flooding and local fire companies spent much of the day and night pumping water out of basements.
Kutztown Mayor Jim Schlegel said a state of emergency was declared for Kutztown at about 7 p.m. by Emergency Management Director Mike Russo.
“The folks who live all over town were affected by water in their basements and closed streets,” said Schlegel. “The flooding affects everyone due to folks being caught in high water and possibly drowning, stalled cars, water in basements and possible electric outlets in the water causing possible electrocution. The whole scenario is dangerous.”
The borough also sent out a notice to not use the toilets due to flooding issues at the wastewater treatment plant. That request was canceled at 8:25 p.m. but residents were still requested to conserve water usage, the mayor said.
Cleanup continued into the following day. The mayor posted photos on Facebook showing mud left behind on streets and parking lots and residents still pumping water out of their basements.
While cleanup continued, Schlegel recommended residents contact 9-1-1 if they need assistance with safety issues. For any property damage, he recommended residents contact their home owner's insurance companies.
“I am proud of how all the emergency personnel reacted to this emergency. The firemen, police, fire police, ambulance personnel on standby and all the borough employees helping with the situation, etc., well done,” he said.
'No books were damaged'
Kutztown Community Library Director Janet Yost said the library closed early Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. because of the storm. There is a leak in the main section of the roof and staff put tubs under it. The area where the foyer roof attaches to the building also leaked.
“It's always a problem when we have extreme storms and caulked numerous times. Water came through in several places and we placed several trash cans under the drips. One patron came in when the rain let up and was surprised we were closing even though he had to walk around the trash cans filling up with water. Fortunately, no books were damaged,” Yost said.
Another deciding factor to close the library early was that the borough issued a request not to utilize sewer services unless absolutely necessary.
“Top that off with both the electricity and the internet flickering in and out, we closed up and headed home,” Yost said. “My short trip home through Kutztown was uneventful. I glanced at the Sacony Creek and saw how full and muddy it was.”
Around 4 p.m. Yost walked over to check out the creek at Peach Street and saw that it was past the 4 foot mark. After Sunday's storm it was at 1½ feet. She returned at 6 p.m. Tuesday and the bridge was submerged.
Yost lives on the east side of the creek and couldn't get over to check on the library. Jackee Sharayko and Joanne Englehart live on the west side so they checked the building to find the basement dry and that the roof leaks had stopped.
Seeing the aerial photo of the library property and the flooding is surreal and “shows how fortunate we were to escape flood damage,” Yost said.
"I was so glad the library was not breached despite the leaks," said library board member Lucy Muth. “I have learned that when flood warnings are issued to take heed.”
'What a year'
In the evening, there were quite a few people out looking at the flooding and taking pictures.
“They stopped and chatted, checking on their neighbors. There are lots of basement pumps running … I worry about the families who live in the homes by the creek. Many are on the west side of the creek and I couldn't see how they were doing since all the bridges were closed,” said Yost.
Barbara Coffin, library board member said, “It was quite a storm. Glad it went through relatively quickly. I can’t imagine the damage if it had been longer!”
“What a year 2020 is turning out to be. One thing the pandemic has taught me, you never know what will come next,” said Yost. “Take one moment at a time, breathe and then find a new way to do things.”
She said Taylor Kutz has mastered virtual storytimes. When in-person programs were halted, Summer Quest presenters learned how to do programs with Zoom and Youtube live. Library patrons have learned to use Libby to get their digital books and audiobooks.
“Many have told me how easy it is to use and think that it is one good thing to come from the pandemic. Usage is up 35 percent. The library adapts as the community's needs change,” said Yost.
Mindy Wagaman, library board member said, “Thanks also to you and the staff who kept an eye on things, kept the library building dry (to the extent possible) and kept everyone safe. This was a crazy storm … which probably shouldn't be odd given the crazy way this year has been going. I hope things are back to ‘normal’ tomorrow.”
Yost said Linda Folke, library board member, summed it up for them, “It certainly was a crazy day. I’m glad all is well for now.”
Kutztown photographer Dennis Krumanocker walked around town during the flooding.
“I had taken a few pictures around town about 2 p.m. and the park was flooded badly, and the creek was high but not over its banks. Around 3:40 p.m. the Borough sent out an emergency advisory that all vehicles near the creek should be moved and people living along the creek should plan on evacuating,” said Krumanocker. “I had taken the drone with me when I went out at 2 and did not use it, but by 4:30 the creek was roaring over its banks.”
Normal Avenue was closed from Willow Street to Constitution Boulevard and Constitution Boulevard was closed, as was Greenwich Street. Main Street was also closed at Constitution.
At about 8:30 p.m., the waters had started to recede and most of the streets were open.
“We had flooding along the Sacony many times, but today was pretty bad. The worst flooding that I remember was back in 1972 when Agnes hit our area, and the town was totally split by the flooding of the Sacony,” said Krumanocker.
Kutztown Area Historical Society board member Craig Koller of Kutztown also saw similarities to the flooding in June 1972 from the remnants of Tropical Storm Agnes.
“As usual, Greenwich Street got the worst of the flooding. This was very much like Agnes in 1972. Back then we had heavy rains before Agnes hit, so the ground was saturated. The same thing happened this year. Of course Agnes lingered. Isaias at least was a fast-moving storm,” Koller said. “Also, when Agnes hit, the 222 Bypass was being built outside of Kutztown; the construction by the creek necessitated a (temporary) smaller creek bed, which made the flooding worse.”
For more information, visit the Kutztown Area Historical Society Facebook page and see video from the Agnes flood. Also visit http://www.kutztownhistory.org/ for more local history.
“And just like in 1972, the people of Kutztown emerged after the rains to help each other with the cleanup,” said Koller.
Kempton resident Kayla Fusselman reported that she traveled from Walnutport to Kempton finding herself detoured numerous times due to flooding and downed trees. “Should have taken 30 minutes but instead took me two hours. So many detours due to flooding and trees down.”
Beth and Dennis Patten reported 24 inches of water in their basement and flooding that turned their Fleetwood backyard into a waterfront property.
Fleetwood Mayor Tammy Gore said Fleetwood had trouble spots with flooded streets and basements.
The Fleetwood Community Park was mainly under water.
An aerial photo shows water flooding around the bandshell at the park that reached onto the Arch Street neighborhood where a car can be seen on the flooded street.
Friendship Drive and North Richmond Street, along with Schaeffer Road, were impassable. Main Street was flooded.
“We spent the day blocking roads that were flooded and directing traffic. We are still assessing the damage and have contacted the insurance company. The Fleetwood Fire Company responded to more than 30 calls,” Gore said.
As of 11 p.m. Tuesday night, fire crews were still out helping people by pumping out basements in the borough.
Gore reported that Fleetwood had nearly 13 inches of rain in 72 hours.
“This was a very unusual and extreme rain event that caused havoc well beyond the borough and we hope that people will be patient as the issues are addressed,” Gore said.