Certainly one of the most identifiable landmarks in the upcoming pictorial history, Agnes Remembered: 50 Years After Wyoming Valley's Worst Disaster, is the Market Street Bridge in Wilkes-Barre.
Most residents of the Wyoming Valley went to bed untroubled on the night of June 22, 1972. All of that changed overnight as the river swelled and the crest prediction was revised to 40 feet. Fearing a levee in the West Side borough of Plymouth that had been weakened by subsidence months before might not hold, officials ordered a partial evacuation of the borough on the night of June 22. Before daybreak, National Guardsmen, public works crews and thousands of volunteers began massing all along the Susquehanna to pile sandbags atop the 16 miles of levees that flanked the river.
Volunteers frantically stacked sandbags, some made with donated pillowcases, at either end of the iconic Market Street Bridge linking Wilkes-Barre to Kingston. Every bridge along the river was closed, cutting the valley in two. Finally, as water began pouring over the top of the levee on Riverside Drive in Wilkes-Barre at 11 a.m., Civil Defense officials gave up the fight, blowing sirens to alert workers to abandon their efforts as widespread evacuations began.
By September 1975, the Wyoming Valley was well on its way to recovery, but the Susquehanna River remained a threat. On. Sept. 27, 1975, heavy rains from Tropical Storm Eloise drove the river near the top of the levees, throwing the valley into a panic. Once again, sandbags went up across each end of the Market Street Bridge.
In January 1996, a sudden thaw on the heels of a two-foot blizzard swelled the Susquehanna, forming unpredictable ice jams and forcing an evacuation of the areas flooded in 1972. But again, major flooding was avoided as the river crested at 34.45 feet. Those close calls led to a determined effort to raise the levees by another five feet, a project completed in 2003 at a cost of $200 million, borne largely by the federal government. The revamped system included portable metal flood walls for either side of the Market Street Bridge, eliminating the need for sandbags.
In the above photo, workers assemble a sectional flood wall on the Wilkes-Barre side of the Market Street Bridge in June 2006. The portable flood walls were acquired in the years following Agnes to improve and enhance the flood protection system in the Wyoming Valley. The sectional walls eliminate the need for sandbagging at the bridge’s entrance during high water events.
These and dozens of other historical Agnes photos from the Citizen’s Voice, Luzerne County Historical Society, and the community, can be seen in this limited-edition book. Click the link below to purchase!