Hurricane Floyd – September 1999: Reflections After 20 years

Leo Brundage looks out over the EPA construction site neighboring his home in Eastwick. Hurricane Floyd in 1999 flooded his basement with six feet of water. The EPA is currently undertaking massive remediation of the toxic Clearview Landfill which has posed a cancer threat to residents over the past 5 decades
Leo Brundage looks out over the EPA construction site neighboring his home in Eastwick. Hurricane Floyd in 1999 flooded his basement with six feet of water. The EPA is currently undertaking massive remediation of the toxic Clearview Landfill which has posed a cancer threat to residents over the past 5 decades

During the first week of September 1999, residents in Philadelphia and the Delaware River Valley had breathed a sigh of relief when Hurricane Dennis swerved westward as it hit North Carolina. As this fifth major cyclonic storm of the season coursed to the north, the heavy rainfall was concentrated in the Susquehanna River basin. Enough rain did fall in the counties of Southeast Pennsylvania, however, to thoroughly soak the ground and filled reservoirs thus contributing to the subsequent inundation of Southwest Philadelphia later that month.  

By the time Dennis was history here on September 4th, of course, residents were already focusing on another massive tropical storm headed up the eastern Atlantic coast – This one received the ominous name “Floyd.”

Floyd’s center built up as it traversed the warm ocean surface after its departure from equatorial Africa on September 2nd. By the time it arrived in the Caribbean and turned north to follow the traditional path up the East Coast of the U.S., the eye was 60 miles in diameter. Overall, the storm was 580 miles across – making it one of the largest sized hurricanes ever experienced in the Eastern Atlantic. With urgent storm warnings posted from Florida to Massachusetts, over 2.6 million shore area dwellers evacuated the vulnerable coastal communities. Packing winds of 105 miles an hour, Floyd smashed ashore at Cape Fear NC on September 15.

Severe flooding in the Planet street area of Eastwick during Hurricane Floyd in September 1999 (photo courtesy of Interface Studio)

The impact on North Carolina was devastating. 37 people died. The total cost of repairing the damage was $4.5 billion in today’s dollars making it up to then, one of the costliest in history. All told, 1.3 million people lost electric power, and in many area rivers and streams exceeded the 500-year prediction.

During September 16, high pressure over the middle states unexpectedly drove Floyd out to sea again. 

For Philadelphia communities this move was critical. 

Floyd’s diversion back to the coast added a storm surge of almost 3 feet to the normal Delaware Estuary tide. This meant a high tide of almost 9 feet overwhelmed the flow of Darby Creek – already at flood stage due to the heavy rains. Most weather experts attribute the flooding in Southwest Philadelphia – six feet or more in many places- to this Delaware River surge.

Over the years, however, residents like Russ Brundage have dismissed the evidence cited by meteorological authorities and have maintained a different story. They rely on an emergency alert issued by AQUA America that night that a crack was developing in its Springton Reservoir near Media PA. Had it occurred, some 130 million cubic feet of water would have been dumped into its tributary, Crum Creek. Based on this bulletin, hundreds of people were evacuated along Crum, which meanders through Chester County and empties in the Delaware River six miles downstream from Eastwick.

Again, local residents, firm in their distrust of government agencies and academic experts, contend that the water was actually released into Crum Creek and joining the Delaware River storm surge. Eventually, they say, the water found its way to the Southwest Philadelphia streets and basements. Their view continues to be that emptying Springton Reservoir was done to protect homes and businesses in the upscale communities along Crum Creek – at the expense of the less affluent families residing in Southwest.

The track of Hurricane Floyd (red line) as it traveled north from the Caribbean Sea to its fateful destination up the Delaware River toward Eastwick.

Russ Brundage and many of his fellow longtime Eastwick residents remain steadfast in their support of key community initiatives to deal with both flooding and the continuing dangers of the two toxic superfund sites located in or near Southwest. Many are key members of the Lower Darby Creek Area Community Advisory Committee which advises the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its huge ongoing project to remediate the polluted Clearview and Folcroft landfills. 

Eastwick community members are also leaders in powerful civic organizations like Friends of the John Heinz Refuge (www.friendsofheinzrefuge.org) and the Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition (www.facebook.com/EastwickFNC) which seek to protect the unique natural surroundings in the area.

Information for this article was taken from the Fandom website, https://weather.fandom.com/wiki/Hurricane_Floyd_(1999) and from an article by Catalina Jaramillo, of PlanPhilly, ”In Eastwick, belief that flooding during Hurricane Floyd was intentional still muddies the water,” published November 28, 2017.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. yakval says

    In all, Floyd killed 87 people — 52 in north Carolina and 4 in Virginia. 2 people died in the WAVY News 10 viewing area, one in Accomack County, and one in Bertie County, North Carolina.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This