Sudden flooding devastates Sullivan County communities

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette Hoppestown Road, leading out of Hillsgrove, was partially destroyed by a raging Mill Creek during last week’s flood.

HILLSGROVE — At about 12:30 a.m. Oct. 21, Marcus Hull, of Hillsgrove, went to bed in his home sandwiched between Mill Creek and Hoppestown Road.

An hour later, he heard what he thought was thunder.

Less than 60 minutes after that, his garage came crashing through his bedroom wall.

At first he thought a drunk driver must have run off the road and hit his home. But when he looked out the window, he realized the creek that runs alongside his house was just below the sill.

“I thought we were gone,” said Hull’s step-daughter Kristen King.

“If that garage hadn’t been there to wake us up, we’d all be gone,” Hull said.

King and her husband were asleep in their basement bedroom when the collapsing garage woke them up. They were confused at first but quickly realized there was about a foot of water in the basement and they needed to get out.

They started to get bags together, but it wasn’t long before the basement wall collapsed as well, and water filled the room.

They dashed upstairs. King’s husband got caught on something under the water.

“I didn’t think my step-dad was going to get him out,” King said, starting to cry.

Thankfully, King’s husband made it out, though not before cracking his kneecap. Their dogs, Flo and Gemma, did not make it.

“It’s terrible. It’s hard to believe that was our house, that’s all our stuff down there,” she said. “I’ve tried to help, but it’s really hard. I don’t even want to try to salvage anything.”

Hull, King and their family aren’t the only ones who were hit hard by last weekend’s flash flooding.

Though Sullivan County Commissioner Donna Ionnone has said everyone has been accounted for, three year-round homes were lost, displacing at least eight people in the county.

Another home was destroyed in Hillsgrove and a third has been sealed off from the owners in fear the ledge on which it rests will collapse.

Hillsgrove Township Supervisors Ron Smith and Scott Higley estimate it will take less than a month to get temporary roadways and bridges up so travelers can get down Hoppestown Road and Route 87. Overall cleanup will take longer.

“The way these guys are working, they’re really going at it,” Higley said, referring to township employees reconstructing the bank of Mill Creek along Hoppestown Road (Route 4010). “Our main concern right now is getting the people taken care of.”

The early-morning flood generated more than the obvious problems for the people of Hillsgrove. “Tourists” now are visiting the town to take pictures of the damage, sometimes holding up traffic or getting in the way of construction and cleanup crews, Smith said.

“Everybody and their brother wants to come and take pictures,” he said. “But they don’t want to help.”

And that’s not all. On Tuesday night, the chains and binders were stolen off of a contractor’s truck — that’s thousands of dollars lost and further delays in people getting the help they need, Smith added.

But others are trying to keep the process of aiding and recovering on track. The Red Cross, the state Department of Health and others are collaborating to help Sullivan County.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is providing and collecting shock kits and water testing kits to help the community check the safety of its drinking water, and the state Department of Health held a tetanus shot clinic last week.

Red Cross volunteers brought in provisions, masks and emotional support and are helping with cleanup.

“We’re meeting their unmet needs at this time and we’re also educating them,” said Bill Roach, a Red Cross volunteer out of Towanda. “The community’s been great, really supportive. They’re reaching out and asking us what we need at the same time that we’re asking them what they need.”

Community members have been stocking the Hillsgrove Fire Hall with meals for the volunteers and others in need of hot food, Roach said.

Currently, Red Cross members are combing the roads throughout the county and marking township maps based on the roads cleared. Doing this tells the community what homes have been accounted for and what homes may have been destroyed.

State forest rangers already have searched cabin to cabin in the state forests, which was a huge help, Roach said.

Individual volunteers are making appearances, as well.

Miria Beaghley, of Williamsport, and her friend Sterling Walden, of Wayne County, North Carolina, both staying in Linden while their husbands work on a nearby gas rig, have been helping the people of Sullivan County and northern Lycoming County every day, they said.

From Warrensville to Hillsgrove and other areas, “We stay moving,” Beaghley said.

Walden, whose hometown was hit hard when Hurricane Matthew came through, said she felt the need to return the favor after strangers helped her family through those difficult times.

“They didn’t know us, but they helped us,” she said. “Now some of these people have lost everything. People need to help people.”

They, and several others, have donated clothes, supplies, time and more. Walden’s parents even sent her money from North Carolina to donate to the people of Sullivan County.

“I wiped out my bank account yesterday,” Beaghley said. “Hey, they needed stuff. Pay it forward.”