LEWISBURG — Two events held Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Agnes brought back many memories for those affected by the valley’s subsequent flooding.
A special luncheon at the Bull Run Tap House was followed by the sold out screening of the first 30 minutes of WVIA’s new documentary about Agnes at the Campus Theatre. Survivors, relatives of some of the casualties, experts and interested parties found out more about the 1972 flood.
One of those families were the relatives of former Lewisburg Police Commissioner Gordon A. Hufnagle, who drowned while saving lives in 1972. Gordon’s daughters-in-law Agnes Hufnagle of Lewisburg and Linda Hager of Northumberland; Gordon’s grandson Brad Hufnagle and his wife Laurie from Selinsgrove; and Gordon’s great-grandson Tyler Hugnagle and his wife Allison of Mifflinburg were present at lunch.
“He started his boat from our home at 5 a.m. that day,” said Agnes Hufnagle, who was married to Gordon’s son Charles. “Our boys were 8 and 10 years old at the time. All four of us got up and spoke to him before he left.”
Hufnagle is a “wonderful man,” said Hager, who was married to Gordon’s son Robert. “He was so popular.”
The family said Gordon Hufnagle’s legacy and recognition of him was “amazing”.
“The program was very, very beautiful, very informative,” said Brad Hugnagle, who was four in 1972. “It’s so nice to be here.”
Buffalo Valley Regional Police Chief Paul Yost told the story of Hufnagle, who was serving as the Director of Public Safety on June 22, 1972. Hufnagle was attempting to rescue James and Agnes Murphey from their home on South Sixth Street when the boat capsized at Bull Run. killing both Hufnagle and Mrs. Murphy.
“The loss of life during a disaster is heartbreaking,” Yost said. “This kind of loss cannot be measured in numbers or expressed in words.”
The memory of Hufnagle lived on and Hufnagle Park was named in his honor. It is “the beating heart of our city” that “is a reminder of the importance of first responders to our collective safety,” Yost said.
The rest of the lunch included acknowledgments of rescue and relief, rehabilitation and sanitation after the storm, and restoration and risk reduction since then. Mayor Kendy Alvarez also delivered a proclamation declaring June 24 to be Agnes Day.
At the Campus Theater, Andrew Stuhl, associate professor of environmental studies and science at Bucknell University, asked the crowd to raise their hands as they lived through Agnes. Almost every hand in the room went up. Stuhl, who has questioned dozens of people about the flood, said the community came together after the tragedy.
“Agnes didn’t do that,” Stuhl said. “People did that. We did. You did that.”
After the first 30 minutes of the documentary “Agnes 50: Life After the Flood” screened, Stuhl was joined by several others for a panel discussion. The panel consisted of WVIA filmmaker Alexander Monelli; Teri Provost, director of the SEDA Governing Council Flood Response Program (SEDA-COG); Rob Nicholas, Director of the Penn State Center for Climate Risk Management and Associate Director/Associate Research Professor of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute; and Maggie Dunn, FEMA Mitigation Division Outreach Coordinator.
“We didn’t want to retell the stories just because we did,” said Monelli. “We wanted to start the conversation that 50 years later, flooding is still a thing. We can make our dams and walls as high as we want. It won’t stop it. We have to find the best way. Is there a best solution? Hopefully the film raises those questions and starts those conversations and keeps them going for years to come.
Monelli has been working on the documentary since September and just finished it days ago. It focuses on Sunbury, Bloomsburg, Danville, Milton, West Pittston and Selinsgrove, Berwick and Wilkes-Barre.
“You all have your Agnes story,” he said. “You all know the story of Agnes. We wanted to honor that and tell that story. We also wanted to take you to the future around today.”
Monelli said the plan was to “add this new crease to talk about these lasting scars and impact that this flood had.”
Participants Jody Zimmerman and Pamela Troutman, both from Lewisburg, said they were both 11 years old in 1972 and lived in Lewisburg. Zimmerman said she lived on South Sixth Street, where Bull Run flooded her home.
“It was three inches from the ceiling in my house,” Zimmerman said.
Both she and Troutman said they appreciated the documentary and the panel discussion and noted that they learned a lot. Troutman said she gained a lot of knowledge and is keen to learn and do more.
One thing the documentary didn’t capture was the smell of sewage and oil and everything that mixed with the floodwater, Zimmerman said.
“It’s a smell that never leaves you,” she said.
Zimmerman said she remembers losing so much in the flood. She recalls clearing mud of the house and personal belongings. She remembers the smell of the Lysol to keep the mold at bay. She remembers her parents buying a block of ice for an ice chest to keep the milk cold. She remembers having blankets on the floor and folding chairs for furniture.
WVIA will air Agnes programming all night long, beginning Thursday at 7:00 p.m. The premiere of the new documentary will be broadcast at 9 p.m