Agnes, Revisited

Floodwaters at Tropical Storm Agnes reach the top of the Sunbury Flood Wall on June 24, 1972. Source: John Moore, The Daily Item.

In June 1972, Tropical Storm Agnes inundated most of the mid-Atlantic with torrential rain and catastrophic flooding. President Nixon referred to “Agnes” as the costliest natural disaster in American history, as it took more than 125 lives and caused more than $3 billion in property damages (in 1972 dollars; more than $30 billion in 2022) from Florida to New York. Pennsylvania accounted for $2.1 billion of that total and, within the state, the Susquehanna River basin was particularly hard hit – more than 60% of Pennsylvania’s damage came in the Susquehanna Valley.

Agnes, Revisited is a multi-disciplinary, community-engaged project to document the history and legacies of this transformative flood in the central Susquehanna Valley. The project design engages community members from the start, to shape the collection of stories and sources, to share the collected information publicly, and to, hopefully, build greater social bonds and community awareness along the way – key ingredients for resilience. I have worked with several Bucknell classes, student groups, and Presidential Fellow Bethany Fitch (class of ’23) to complete nearly 50 interviews with survivors, two rounds of archival research at the Pennsylvania State Archives, a scan of  newspaper coverage of the storm and flood over more than 20 years, review hundreds of photographs and social media posts, and organize a half dozen public scholarship events. Community partners include area revitalization agencies – principally, The Improved Milton Experience and Lewisburg Neighborhoods – but also SEDA-COG’s Flood Resiliency Program, the Merril Linn Conservancy, Pennsylvania Organization of Watersheds and Rivers, WKOK News Radio, the Daily Item (newspaper), and more.

So far, this research has produced:

  • a 60 minute multi-media performance based on oral histories of Agnes survivors, in collaboration Gerard Stropnicky (formerly Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble), Elaine Williams (Bucknell, Theatre and Dance), students from two different classes at Bucknell University, Max Wilhelm (Bucknell, videographer) and eleven different community organizations.
  • a coffee-table style commemorative book for Agnes’ 50th anniversary, in partnership with The Daily Item
  • contributions to Agnes, 50, 60 minute documentary about the legacies of Agnes, directed by film-maker Al Monelli for WVIA, a PBS-affiliate in northcentral PA
  • several community presentations and commemorative events in the towns of Selinsgrove, Milton, Lewisburg, Sunbury, and Danville (PA).

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