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Susquehanna Life

The Stories of Hurricane Agnes

As part of a project to chronicle the impact of Hurricane Agnes, and peoples’ memories of it, Bethany Fitch (Bucknell, '23) and Andrew Stuhl, associate professor of environmental studies and sciences at Bucknell University, interviewed West Milton, Pa., resident Robert Layton. 

In 1972, at the time of the storm, Mr. Layton had just graduated from Lycoming College and was helping set up a dark room/photography lab there. When Agnes hit, he was involved in helping move people and belongings to prevent damage in Lewisburg, Pa. During these efforts, he put his photography skills to practice in documenting some of the impacts of the storm in the Lewisburg area. Mr. Layton still has many of the images and the goal is to display them in Fall 2020 at Bucknell University.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Robert Layton: ... And when I was...when the river was getting ready to crest my parents had moved up the hill with some neighbors to be out of the way and we had moved as much furniture as we could and I said, Well, there's no point in...I had worked all day and I said, there's no point in you staying here, I'll stay here and I sat on the cellar steps looking down at the water with the idea that if it got within a certain distance, we would move what was still in the first floor out and fell asleep, and you can hear the water kind of lapping and you know, it was down maybe three steps from the thing and I hear splashing and I’m like dreaming kind of and I open my eye and there’s a rat trying to get up the steps. He had come in with the flood water and I thought, “This is enough,” so I closed the door and laid down. I thought: “when the water runs in on the floor we'll panic.”

Robert: ...Yeah well, a lot of the homes along First and Water Street were older residents that had lived there forever and everything they had of value was in that house and they were just...I don't know if they were in denial that the water could get that high. I’m sure they had seen high water before. I don’t know when the last flood was that actually got into the homes along Lewisburg, but they wanted to stay, wanted to stay, and we ended up really going back and rescuing people and getting people out because you know, once it got up to the porch of the front and they're calling, “Hey, can you come get me!” and we’re trying...now the big trucks we didn’t have much trouble. I think even maybe some of the National Guard was here at that point...

Robert: ...[One resident on] Water Street [in Lewisburg] had a baby grand piano in the living room and she didn’t want us to move it because she was afraid. We went and took everything out of her basement, moved everything out of the basement, washer-dryer, whatever we could load on the truck. She didn’t want to take the baby grand because she was afraid it would get damaged in the move and the water...wasn’t long 'til the water was on the porch and she called and said, “Can you come and take my baby grand upstairs?” Well, you have to disassemble them. You can’t take the legs off and then carry it up and fortunately, it didn’t get to the second floor, but it was...it was close. So we carried the baby grand upstairs...”

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