Late-June flooding across the northeastern United States spared most of the Southern Tier — with a notable exception in Tioga County.
The disaster closed roads, forced evacuations and disrupted Mass schedules in the six-church Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick region. Hardest hit was the Village of Owego, where an overflowing Susquehanna River caused extensive damage to homes and businesses.
St. Patrick Church and the parish school on Front Street escaped harm.
“The church is fine, and the school just got a little mopped up,” said Ellen Keough, pastoral associate for Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick. However, Keough said that houses right across the street bordering the river “got it badly.”
“Water is right up to the first-floor level of their homes,” added Father William Moorby, Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick pastor.
St. Patrick hosted a Red Cross facility for two days, but the threat of further flooding forced relocation of the shelter June 29 to Newark Valley further north, where flooding was minimal.
All was closed June 29 at St. Patrick, which is the central office for the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick community. The closing didn’t surprise Lisa Salamida, parish secretary, since she had heard early that morning that the Lockheed Martin plant was down as well.
“They’re the biggest (employer) in Owego — so we all figured if they weren’t going to work, nobody else was either,” she remarked.
A driving ban for Tioga County was lifted later on June 29, but the restriction continued to apply to areas hardest hit by the flood. Owego was still in a state of emergency as of press time June 30, when main roads remained blocked off and railway travel had been suspended. Only those who absolutely had to get into the village were allowed. Many area residents were still without power.
“(Authorities are) checking everybody before they come through the underpass. Certain roads are still covered. It was difficult to get here. You had to take a real roundabout way; you couldn’t get into the village,” Keough said June 30.
“It’s bad, it really is. I was just calling my bulletin company and we don’t have any have bulletins, and I don’t know if they can get through,” Salamida added.
Father Boniface Ewah, a Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parochial vicar, drove that Friday morning from Apalachin to Owego for 7:30 a.m. Mass. Because of the detours he had to make, he showed up 30 minutes late and the few people who had shown up at 7:30 were already gone.
“Father Boniface tried,” Keough remarked.
One day earlier Father William Coffas, also a parochial vicar, had a similar experience at St. Margaret Mary Church in Apalachin.
“I set up for Mass and nobody came,” he said, noting that the travel ban not only affected his Mass but also prevented Father Ewah from going up to Newark Valley’s St. John the Evangelist.
Father Moorby said June 30 he was hoping for Mass schedules to get back on board by the weekend. However, the pastor added that was only if the Susquehanna began receding and roadways would reopen.
“We’re assuming we’ll have weekend Masses. Whether people can get to them will be a question,” Father Moorby said.
Owego’s Tioga County Rural Ministry, located in downtown, was closed from Wednesday afternoon to Friday morning. According to Verna Miller, a staff member, there was no apparent damage to the ministry.
Miller said “there’s no way of knowing at this point” whether the rural ministry, which contains a food pantry, was going to be immediately inundated with requests. However, food was bound to become an issue since Father Moorby noted that both major grocery stores in Owego were flooded out.
Fortunately, Father Moorby said no damage was reported at any of his six churches. He said St. James Church in Waverly was in fine shape, though it was just north of one of the most heavily affected areas. The other Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick churches are St. Pius X, Van Etten; St. Francis, Catatonk; St. Margaret Mary; and St. John the Evangelist.
Though the potential for flooding extended into Southern Tier counties west of Tioga, those areas were largely spared. The devastation stemmed from heavy rains earlier in the wee, which caused death and damage throughout the Northeast. On June 27 an incredible four-plus inches fell in Binghamton alone, and two truckers on Route 88 died in separate accidents June 28 when they drove into the same washed-out chasm of the highway.
Tioga County borders the Scranton Diocese (northern Pennsylvania) to the south and the Syracuse Diocese (Broome County) to the east. Father Moorby observed that many Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick residents live in Broome County as well as Tioga.
“A lot of parishioners’ homes have been damaged. We’ll be trying to reach out to them and to the larger community if we can, but it’s kind of hard to tell yet where people are going to need help,” Father Moorby said.
Commenting on the overall devastation, Father Coffas remarked, “It’s amazing how it affects your life … it’s just horrendous.”