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Community Comes Together After New Bethlehem Flooding

Tuesday, July 23, 2019 @ 12:07 AM

Posted by Aly Delp

20190722_124034NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT) – Twenty-three years after the historic flood of 1996, the New Bethlehem community is forging forward out of the floodwaters yet again.

According to Barry Fox, Chief of New Bethlehem Fire Company #1, the big difference between this summer’s flooding and the flooding in 1996 is how quickly it hit.

“It’s a whole different thing with flash flooding from when the (Red Bank) creek flooded,” Fox told exploreClarion.com.

With the flooding in 1996, the creek rose more slowly, eventually taking over the downtown area. In comparison, this year the heavy rains caused flash flooding around Leasure Run, a smaller tributary, that struck quickly and without warning.

Fox noted one thing did remain the same, though – the outpouring of support from the community following the flood.

“Just like in ’96 – and I was chief in ’96, too – we are completely full of stuff people have donated. Everyone pulls together,” he said.

“The donations started coming in Saturday. The Red Cross dropped off buckets of supplies for cleaning. Then we got more donations. We have two rooms full of bottled water, plus our refrigerators are full, and we have Gatorade and other drinks, too.”

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Fox said that along with the donations of bottled water and cleaning supplies, many local businesses also donated food and drinks to support the first responders and clean-up volunteers. Fox’s Pizza, M&S Meats, Key Beverage, and Joe’s Pizza were among the businesses who donated.

The donations, and the local support, have been essential for the people affected, like Terry Sturgeon, one of the owners of Newbie Wheel Alignment that suffered significant damage from the flooding.

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Sturgeon said that when he arrived at his business on Saturday morning to assess the situation, there were already volunteers on the scene beginning to clean up.

“I wasn’t sure about continuing on until I saw that,” he noted.

“I guess people want to keep us around.”

While the borough employees and fire department volunteers have been hard at work, they have also been many others in the community helping out, according to New Bethlehem Borough Council President Sandy Mateer.

Mateer also noted that many people have been making donations to help the victims of the flooding, from individuals donating cleaning supplies through the fire department to businesses, like the New Bethlehem Subway, owned by Tim Murray, which donated to help first responders, as well as volunteers, during the clean-up efforts.

According to Mateer, dumpsters were provided by Ted Kunselman, and borough employees have been filling them and having them hauled away as people cleared out the debris and damaged items from their homes and properties.

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The flooding had swept away many personal belongings that people had stored at an affected storage facility further upstream, Mateer noted.

“Anyone who finds personal items, keepsakes, anything of that kind, is asked to hold on to them and call Rich McGarrity at the borough office,” she said.

The borough will be working to coordinate with the people who lost items in the flooding to return any found items.

New Bethlehem Borough Emergency Management Coordinator Edward Goth noted that local volunteers and families have been essential in the clean-up efforts, with volunteers from local churches also pitching in.

We just had a tremendous amount of support from the community,” he noted.

“We’ve gone through this before, but it’s kind of a long process. We contacted the American Red Cross right away, and they were very responsive. They were contacted early Saturday morning and we had a representative at our fire station before noon.”

According to Goth, by shortly after noon, another representative of the Red Cross arrived back at the fire station with cleaning buckets full of supplies for the clean-up effort.

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The Red Cross then put the borough in contact with another group to assist in the effort, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

“They are volunteers who will come into certain areas affected and will do mucking out. They will clean basements, remove drywall, those types of things. They’ve been in touch with us, and they were actually at a couple of the residences Sunday and were talking with them, so they’re in there helping out.”

The borough has also requested the assistance of PennDOT for assistance in getting the mud and debris cleaned off Broad Street, Goth noted.

“They’re going to try to get someone down here with some equipment to help with some of that process within the next couple of days,” he noted.

“I think all in all, it’s progressing well. It’s a slow process. Everything has to be cleaned and dried and disinfected and all of that, but we’re making progress.”

Senior Pastor Derwood “Bud” Davis, of the Redbank Valley United Methodist Ministry, a cooperative ministry of seven area churches, and his 14-year-old son, Brendan, were out on Saturday, helping a local family clean out their basement.

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“People are so appreciative of all the help the community has offered,” Davis said.

He also noted the generosity of the local community, with people from the fire hall handing out donated food and water to the volunteers on Saturday.

Volunteering his personal time was just the beginning for Davis, though. He was back out again on Monday, handing out flood buckets organized by UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee On Relief.

The local United Methodist churches, along with churches throughout the local conference and the state, often have flood bucket drives to collect materials for flood buckets, which contain a multitude of cleaning supplies and other necessary items to help with clean-up following a flood or other natural disaster, according to Davis.

“What we do here in the Valley is we have flood bucket drives and individuals churches will set a goal. The last one we did, I just asked each church to do a minimum of five flood buckets so with seven churches that’s 35 flood buckets we can put together and take out to the mission barn in New Castle.”

Davis himself has also volunteered at both the Eastbrook Mission Barn near New Castle and at UMCOR Mission Central, in Harrisburg, where the flood buckets are unpacked again and checked for the proper contents.

“What goes in the buckets is a special recipe-like list, and they are strict about what goes in there because the buckets can be stored for months, or even years, and not be used, there’s certain things we can’t put in there because it goes bad,” he noted.

“When we go and volunteer at the mission barn, or in Harrisburg, they have teams of people, volunteers, who sit down and open the buckets up and take everything out of them, and go through and pick out stuff that shouldn’t be in there. That stuff doesn’t get thrown out, they will give it to another need, but they have the right stuff there to replace it, if necessary. Certain things have certain quantities and certain size bottles. They have it down to a science what goes in the buckets. That’s what we do as volunteers. Then they’re re-packed, the lid is closed, and an UMCOR sticker goes on them, which means that bucket has been checked and verified.”

UMCOR is often one of the first organizations to respond during natural disasters, as it is one of their major missions.

“We’ve had I can’t tell you how many rounds of flood bucket drives and hauled them out there, but I never expected we would be getting them back for our own community,” he said.

However, as news of the flooding in New Bethlehem spread, UMCOR responded.

“Eastbrook Mission Barn was ready to go, and our lay leader got ahold of them and they delivered 50 flood buckets to the church.”

After the initial delivery of the buckets, Davis and his son began distributing them among those affected by the flooding.

“We want people to know, if you don’t use everything in them, pass it along to someone else who will. That’s what they’re for, to help whoever needs them. We don’t want them back, we want them to be used by whoever needs them.”


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