EAST PENNSBORO TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WHTM) — It was 50 years ago on June 22, 1972 when the torrential rain from Hurricane Agnes pounded the Midstate. 50 Pennsylvanians were killed.
Daniel Hamburg talked with Melvin Eichelberger, the last living member of Harrisburg River Rescue crew who responded at the time. He was only 25 years old but he remembers those days vividly.
Hurricane Agnes destroyed homes and businesses and left families stranded.
“A lot of families couldn’t get out so we took our boats up to ’em,” said Melvin Eichelberger.
Eichelberger was a lieutenant with Harrisburg River Rescue.
“We were out for 47 hours patrolling downtown Harrisburg,” he said.
We asked him how many people he saved.
“I think it was about 25 or 30 people that needed help. They were actually hollering and crying,” Eichelberger said. “We tried to do the best we can because we had boats full of equipment. We had to call another boat in.”
But not everyone was so lucky.
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“A couple of them drowned. They tried to wade through the water and we didn’t know about it,” Eichelberger said. “They said ‘well we can make it.’ They had three children drown.”
He had the grim task of recovering bodies from the water.
“It’s a sad scene. You know we were trying to get them out. We couldn’t get them out. We needed another boat to help them to get them into the boat,” Eichelberger said.
After they got back covered in sweat and mud, the crew met President Richard Nixon.
“I looked up at him, I says ‘Who are you?’ And he said ‘President Nixon. We were all ragged, dirty, muddy. We told him what was going on,” Eichelberger said.
On a large scale mitigation efforts have increased exponentially. But what’s to be learned for the average Pennsylvanian?
“I think the lesson is, when people know of a flood coming, get out of there,” Eichelberger said. “A lot of them people didn’t listen to us and there they were stranded.”
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