That was the request the executive editor at the paper directed towards me the day before the flood waters crested.
The parts of Wilkes-Barre that lay closest to the river were being evacuated, and that included us. I trudged back to our supply cabinet, pondered the daily activities of our newsroom, and doubled up on supplies. In the end I procured a little traveling Office Max and into someone’s car it went, up to a hotel in the higher parts of the city, where we would work from a makeshift newsroom.
The next morning I reported for duty at 6 a.m., taking the early shift among the two that all the reporters split for the day. There was really nothing for me to do in the way of features stories so I hovered around the news reporters, waiting to see how I could help. I eventually ended up sitting on the floor by the picture window in the conference room that became the hub of activity, looking out across the major highway in the valley, which was now devoid of pretty much any human activity.
A catered lunch came in for all and as the afternoon wore on we packed into a suite across from the conference room that had a TV. The river was about to hit its highest point and we needed to watch as those numbers came in.
When it hit 41 there were murmurs of concern. Those murmurs turned into shouts of scattering reporters to different areas of the valley when a call came through that the ground near the levee system was starting to produce bubbles of water. The Susquehanna River was trying to push its way underneath, threatening to bring the whole thing down and flood three additional towns, one in which my best friend Joanne lived.
I found out that hours prior Joanne had moved everything to my parent’s house and was staying there. As soon as the news of the levee broke my phone lit up with a text from her, a question that was so simple, yet so complex with all the anxiety that was trapped behind it:
“Is it true?”
What do you even say to that, particularly when the answers makes it one step closer to her losing her home and all belongings?
The next hours were tedious as the bubbles got bigger and trucks went over to dump piles of sand in front of the levee, reinforcing it. Then I had to head home, and the only route I could take drove right next to said levee.
I pulled off the highway and onto the street that ran along the river and was hit with a wall of traffic. I inched closer and closer to the spot that would bring me past the levee and into safety and received a text from someone in the newsroom:
“Where are you? They’re saying it’s close to breaking.”
I put my phone on the passenger seat and looked around. There were cars everywhere. To the left were houses and to the right, the river. I unrolled my window and unlocked my door. If the water was going to come through, I was going to outrun it.
After an agonizing 20 minutes I was clear of the levee and on my way home. As soon as I reached there I found they closed the roadway completely, amongs a bevy of wailing sirens. The valley had officially become a series of little islands due to most bridges and major traffic areas closed off.
All anyone could do was sit and wait and watch, and only give their best guess at what the river would do next.