Forty-six years ago, Hurricane Agnes started out as a tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea. The depression began slowly on June 14, 1972, and started building up steam, first becoming Tropical Storm Agnes, before finally turning into a full-blown hurricane.
The hurricane hit landfall near Panama City, Florida five days later on June 19 and went on a rain-soaked rampage up the Eastern seaboard. By the time the monster storm petered out in late June/early July, the hurricane turned 15 states upside down, becaming one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history with more than 120 fatalities and $3 billion in damage. In Pennsylvania alone, Agnes destroyed more than 68,000 homes and 3,000 businesses.
My memory is pretty fuzzy when it comes to Agnes. I was too young to remember much of the raging winds and dangerous flooding. I have an odd memory of looking out a car window at a torrential downpour, but I have no way of knowing if the memory is real or just the product of a youngster’s very active imagination.
What I do remember about Agnes is seeing old black and white news shots of men with water up to their waist, carrying children and loved ones to small boats to escape flooded homes and business; communities, big and small, flooded with record levels of water up to the rooftops; and homeowners cleaning up muck, mud, and debris weeks and months after the storm.
I saw pictures of the storm in my youth and later in Journalism school and came away awed by its force. I felt sad for the unlucky families who lost loved ones and homes. I shook my head in disbelief. One day these people were heading out to the market or to a son’s baseball game, the next they were running, literally and figuratively, for higher, dry ground. (The storm was so destructive that there will never ever be another Hurricane Agnes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Center retired the name in 1973.)
While shaken by the images, I remember looking at the shots and being amazed at the resourcefulness of the human spirit to rebuild, to overcome, to pick up and start over. While Mother Nature seems to be just as powerful as ever—case in point the billions of dollars of devastation and damage Hurricane Harvey caused in Houston and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico—I saw similar shots in recent years of friend helping friend, neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger.
Storms come and go, but a kind heart is still a kind heart.