York County suffered the brunt of flash flooding Labor Day weekend 2018. Much of the damage remains one year later.
Flash flooding damage remains in York County a year after devastation
'That was the worst thing that I have seen in a long time'
By Teresa Boeckel/York Daily Record
(York) — On a recent evening, David and Christine Sangrey watched as a truck drove down their road to a bridge closed since last year after a devastating flash flood.
The driver turned around and drove back the way he came. It happens often, said the Sangreys, who were eating dinner outside with their family at their home on Gipe Road in Chanceford Township.
“It says ‘bridge out — road closed’ and they still come down and get upset because they’ve got to turn around,” David Sangrey said.
One year ago, a flash flood over the Labor Day weekend destroyed roads, bridges and homes in southeastern York County. Eight to 14 inches of rain fell in a four-hour period in parts of southcentral Pennsylvania.
In York County, six townships suffered the brunt of the flooding: Hellam, Chanceford, Lower Chanceford, Hopewell, East Hopewell and Fawn.
The effects can still be seen a year later, with road closures, piles of debris washed downstream and empty lots where houses once stood.
“That was the worst thing that I have seen in a long time,” said Ronald Witmer, local fire chief and deputy emergency management director for Chanceford Township.
Rain “washed everything out”
The Sangreys pointed out how high the water rose in the meadow across from their home. Photos show the muddy water from Otter Creek spread out across the field. Fire vehicles parked in front of their home as emergency responders closed the road.
The amount of water was about the same as Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 — only the flood water rose within hours instead of days, David Sangrey said.
The family lost about 10 acres of ground in the flooding.
“It just washed everything out,” he said. Luckily, their home was undamaged, while others were swept away in the floods.
A neighbor had Hereford cattle carried away by flood waters. One of them died nearby, and it smelled bad for a month. No one could get in to remove the carcass.
Now, piles of gravel block traffic from crossing the heavily damaged bridge that spans Otter Creek.
“We got a nice swimming hole down at the bridge,” he said. “It’s maybe 14- to 16-foot deep there. We just jump off the bridge into the water.”
Joy Robinson, who lives on the other side of the span, said it has become a fishing hole, too.
Chanceford Township officials have been seeking money to repair the roads and bridges. However, the municipality did not qualify for federal emergency funding, because the amount of damage was not high enough.
The York Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is expected to vote this month on funding to fix the Gipe Road bridge, which some describe as a main thoroughfare through the township.
However, the Sangreys and Robinson don’t believe it needs to be reopened. It’s been peaceful since it’s been closed, they said.
“They could close it off, and it probably wouldn’t bother anybody,” David Sangrey said.
Roads remain closed
Officials continue to find damage from the storm.
A bridge on Lucky Road closed recently after it was discovered the bridge footers had collapsed, Witmer said.
“This was done in by recent heavy rains, but that wouldn’t have had the impact if not for the flooding a year ago,” said Mark Walters, a spokesman for the County of York.
Eight roads remain closed in Chanceford Township.
Crews with the state Department of Transportation hope to have some roads open within a few months, spokesman Mike Crochunis said.
Repairs to Gum Tree Road are expected to be finished by the end of this month. A pipe replacement on Ted Wallace Road will likely be done by mid- to late-October.
Other work, however, will take years.
Bids will be opened in November to replace a span on Old Forge Road. That work is expected to be finished by the fall of 2021.
Damage still remains visible in many communities
Debris that washed down Otter Creek still lays around, Witmer said, including a house still sitting in the woods.
Volunteers with a Lancaster County organization have been working to help clean it up.
In addition, the Ma & Pa Railroad Preservation Society spent about $217,000 to rebuild its property, president Craig Sansonetti said.
Without the preservation society, there’s no future at Muddy Creek Forks. The village features the old A.M. Grove general store, a mill and train rides.
It took a great deal of work to make repairs and clean up after the flooding.
“While the work is done, a lot of the bills remain,” Sansonetti said.
The society remains under water by about $140,000 at this point, he said. While it has received some grants and donations, more is needed.
Hellam Township road still restricted, other communities affected
While Chanceford Township was hit hard, roads in other communities are restricted or closed as well, Walters said.
It has impacted commerce in the area, he said. That includes Amish families who travel by horse and buggy and school districts that have had to reroute buses.
In Hellam Township, Accomac Road remains a single lane from the temporary repairs that were done shortly after the flooding. Traffic signals control the flow of vehicles.
“Permanent repairs will be significant in terms of costs,” Crochunis said.
Repairs will be completed under a contract and will be under construction by the spring of 2022, he said.
Other municipalities, such as Shrewsbury and Lower Chanceford townships, still have a road or two affected by the flooding.
In East Hopewell Township, PennDOT crews are paving Muddy Creek Forks Road this week so it can be reopened, Crochunis said.
As of March, the U.S. Small Business Administration had approved just over a half a million dollars in loans for York County, Walters said.
Family starts over
Mike Taylor’s home was damaged in the flood last summer. He was one of the few who had flood insurance, which he found out does not cover everything.
The roof trusses to his rancher broke from the porch being shoved by the water. His homeowners policy picked up the roof replacement.
Inmates from York County Prison helped him clean up his property.
Just before the holidays, he and his three daughters moved back into their home. They continued to work on repairs through the winter.
He recently had his two acres of yard leveled out. His daughters wanted to reopen the pool for the summer, so they dug out the 18 inches of mud and replaced the liner and filter. It cost about $6,000 to fix.
“We’re all back in and happy and starting over,” he said.
Others, however, are still out of their homes. Taylor’s friend, Donnie Grove, lost his place. He’s staying in another family residence.
“Nobody’s helping out to get things done,” he said.
Grove, who has three boys, said he wants to rebuild and is looking to see if he can get permits for a well and septic tank. He will not rebuild in a flood zone.
Taylor said it was the community, friends, family and churches that have been helping people to recover.
“I hope I never go through it again,” Taylor said.