When I was a kid growing up in rural central Pennsylvania, my parents and other older adults would talk often about Hurricane Agnes. They’d tell stories over coffee at home or the local restaurant about where they were when the rain and wind started and how the flooding grew and grew, turning streets into raging rivers and changing lives forever. They’d gossip about what they knew about boarded up businesses and whether the business owner had plans to rebuild or move on from the flood.
Every couple of years local newspaper and one or two of the regional television stations would visit the area and run stories and grainy newspaper shots of villages and towns overtaken with flood waters on the anniversary of the storm and how the community had changed in the intervening years.
This year marks the hurricane’s 50th anniversary.
When it rains, it pours
Agnes began simply enough on June 11, 1972, starting out in the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm and raged on for the next three weeks, rolling up the Atlantic seaboard, from Florida to Maine, before finally sputtering out on July 6. The storm had done its worst, leaving behind 128 people dead, 50 from Pennsylvania alone, and property damage totaling more than $3.1 billion.
Let that sink in: $3.1 billion.
As the years carried on, Hurricane Agnes, which ranks as one of the worst in U.S. history, stands as a monument for me marking time and the passage of days. It’s one of those “where were you events?” I may have been a toddler when Agnes touched land, but the storm’s aftermath remains fresh in my memory like other key events in the 70s and 80s, including the Challenger explosion, Ronald Reagan urging Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, the threat of the nuclear bomb, Live-Aid, and many, many more.
These moments changed us. Prior to the event, we were one way; after the event, we were another.
Before and After!
Like Hurricane Agnes, the Covid Pandemic has been a marker in our lives. Who doesn’t remember corporate leaders and government officials talking about shutting down businesses for fourteen days and how we’d be back up and ready to go after the shut-down? In my own life, my manager told me to take home everything that I needed for two weeks, that was it, we’d be back up and running in no time.
It was a nice thought, my team but never made it back.
In fact, I ended up getting furloughed by the firm a few months later to help stabilize the firm and keep them from going under. Yes, many businesses are still trying to overcome those “14 days!”
Where do we go from here?
I keep coming back to the basic question: Where do we go from here? Hurricane Agnes and the pandemic were both painful, life-changing events. Many families lost loved ones or jobs or businesses. In both cases, we remember the dead; we cherish the living, and we try rebuild from the storm — one step at a time, one challenge at a time.