Residents recall the brutal aftermath of Floyd in 1999
With a suddenness that surprised weather experts and Eastwick residents, Hurricane Isaias struck Southwest Philadelphia last Tuesday morning, August 4. A measure of the rapidity that the devastating storm hit was the seven-fold rise of the Schuylkill river flow in the just six hours after dawn.
City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson in whose district Eastwick is located, plodded down rain-covered local streets to assess the impact directly. To reporters, he said he remembers residents asking him back in 2011, when he became their State Representative, “How are we going to address the issue of Darby Creek?”
As with the Schuylkill River Basin, 5 – 8 inches of rain fell on the 77 square miles of Delaware and Chester counties that drain into Darby and Cobbs Creeks. Seemingly within minutes, large portions of Eastwick were suddenly under 2-3 feet of fast-flowing muddy water. That amount of rain is what falls in two months of normal weather.
Isaias was the second tropical storm to plague the region in less than four weeks. With trees falling on power lines through the region, it pulled the plug on electrical power to 600,000 utility customers. In also spawned seven tornadoes in the three-state area
”I recognize that we have these natural occurrences that happen from time to time but they have a significant impact on the quality of life on the people who live inside Eastwick,” Johnson said. “They deserve to receive the type of support they do need so when these floods happen their lives aren’t turned upside down.”
In newspaper reports, Ramona Rousseau-Reid, the dedicated vice-president of the Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition (EFNC), described how this flood reminded her of the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Ranging out from her home on Brunswick Place she could see the athletic fields of the former Pepper School on 84th Street were well underwater. Farther on toward Lindbergh Blvd., emergency lights were flashing as firemen and rescue workers evacuated residents from flooded homes.
The Red Cross had set up a station in the Rite Aid Drug Store at Island Avenue and Lindbergh.
Across Darby Creek, Timothy Boyce, Delaware County director of emergency services estimated that over 100 displaced families were temporarily housed in local hotels. Delaware County’s main concern was the rise of Chester Creek whose floodwater crested at 16 feet, double the normal height.
Elsewhere, a total of seven tornados were spawned by the hurricane in Delaware and New Jersey. Winds from Isaias reached up to 100 miles an hour as it came northward along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina where it first came inland.
Throughout its progress in moved much faster than was forecasted by the National Hurricane Center.
Councilman Johnson said there should be assistance from the local, state, and federal agencies and lawmakers to address the flood zone and is working to convene a virtual town hall with stakeholders at all levels and residents to discuss the environmental issues facing Eastwick.
The issue of flooding in Eastwick has been studied and discussed a number of times – both before and after Floyd. Shortly after that destructive event, high rates of cancer in Eastwick were being recorded. These were eventually associated with the runoff from the toxic Clearview landfill along Darby Creek and the Environmental Protection Agency began its studies. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was also summoned to study how Eastwick and the Heinz Refuge could be protected from flooding of neighboring creeks and rivers.
Flood risks were cited again when Korman Estates sought to erect several hundred new apartments off lower Lindbergh Blvd. This move was thwarted by the concerted efforts of Rousseau-Reid’s EFNC. More recently, the likelihood of flooding was raised in the City Development Authority’s proposal to develop about 150 acres in controls under the Eastwick Lower Darby Creek Project.
There has been a constant undercurrent of concern about stormwater and seepage in connection with the EPA’s remediation of the Clearview Landfill Superfund. Rousseau-Reid is a member of the EPA’s Community Advisory Group monitoring the impact of this ongoing project on the community. She sadly summarized the situation succinctly. “This is an ongoing problem that has crippled and plagued this community for many decades.”
Quotations for this article were taken from the Phila. Inquirer article on page 1, August 5, 2020. Photos are courtesy of Vincent Thompson, Communication Director, Councilman Kenyatta’s office.