In early September, 2011, the inland remnants of Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Katia funneled heavy rain over Northeastern Pennsylvania. An estimated 75,000 residents living in a 22 mile stretch from Exeter to Shickshinny were ordered to evacuate their homes, and utility companies were forced to shut down service to those areas. Residents and business owners scrambled to move their belongings to higher ground. The American Red Cross established emergency shelters in high schools and colleges in the area. Local authorities received support from hundreds of volunteers directed by the Pennsylvania National Guard.
However, if not for help from Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services, the damage to the Wyoming Valley would have been far worse.
The Susquehanna River swelled to record levels across the state. In Wilkes-Barre, it crested on September 9 at an all-time record of 42.66 feet, nearly two feet higher than the previously disastrous water levels of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. These record levels were the first test of the levee system that was constructed in 2006.
Communities that were unprotected by levees, such as West Pittston, Jenkins Township, Duryea, and parts of Plains Township, were affected by extreme flooding, and the subsequent water and mud damage resulted in the displacement of 100,000 people. Flood gates on Market Street in Downtown Wilkes-Barre were faced with bursting gaskets and breaches. Thankfully, much of the Wyoming Valley emerged relatively unscathed because of the quick actions taken by Robert Mericle and his employees to prevent the dike in Forty Fort Borough from failing. The lead civil engineer from the Army Corps of Engineers told Robert Mericle that Mericle’s work to shore up the dike saved the region in excess of $1 billion in property damage.
Mericle provided all of the labor, materials, services, and space described below free of charge.
On Wednesday evening, September 7, when catastrophic flooding became a real possibility, Robert Mericle called the Luzerne County Engineer and Emergency Management Agency Director and offered to assist in any way necessary. His offer was accepted, and he quickly mobilized his employees, equipment, and materials to bolster the levee on both sides of the river.
Over two days and nights, Mericle provided nearly 8,000 tons of rock material, the use of more than 60 trucks, and the use of more than $15 million worth of excavation equipment that was unavailable from any other source.
In Forty Fort, the Mericle team worked urgently as water boils were steadily developing in a 200 foot area of the levee system. The extensive water levels placed extreme stress on the levee system. Mericle provided tons of rock material and created a stabilizing berm to negate the heavy pressure created by the extremely high water levels. Were it not for this berm, the levee system likely would have failed. Luzerne County and the Army Corps of Engineers simply did not have the equipment or materials available that were needed to save the levees and prevent devastating flooding.
Unfortunately, the water level was too high for areas not protected by the levee system. Small communities, such as West Pittston with 4,800 residents, were devastated by floodwaters that reached close to the second floor of most residences. Dozens of homes and business in Plains Township, Jenkins Township, and Duryea were inundated with water. The majority of the residents in these communities did not have flood insurance and needed substantial help to clean up their properties. Mericle helped these devastated communities by pumping more than 30 million gallons of water from homes and businesses, removing tons of mud, and repairing damaged infrastructure.
Mericle’s workforce spent more than 3,100 hours on flood prevention and cleanup efforts, and Robert Mericle spent at least 140 hours working side-by-side with his employees. Mericle’s heavy equipment was used in excess of 1,000 hours and Mericle donated nearly 8,000 tons of stone material for flood prevention efforts. The direct cost of the labor, equipment usage, and materials donated by Mericle exceeded $448,000.
Robert Mericle allowed the American Red Cross to set up its entire statewide relief center for several months at no charge in a 408,200 square foot Mericle industrial building near Hazleton. Mr. Mericle made special arrangements, again at no cost to the American Red Cross, to outfit the space with needed electrical, plumbing, and communication lines. This allowed the Red Cross to support more than 100 Emergency Response Vehicles, prepare tens of thousands of meals that were shipped statewide, and even provide sleeping quarters for volunteers.
Mr. Mericle also allowed free use of an 11,000 square foot space in Hanover Township by the Salvation Army for the storage and distribution of furniture to flood victims. The Christian and Missionary Alliance Church was also provided with 11,000 square feet of free space in Hanover Township to sort and distribute furnishings, clothing, cleaning supplies, and other items donated by churches across Pennsylvania for flood victims in Luzerne, Wyoming, and Columbia counties.
Robert Mericle donated $200,000 to the American Red Cross and $50,000 to the Salvation Army specifically targeted towards disaster recovery efforts in Luzerne County.
While the levee system held, multiple soccer fields located within the Luzerne County Recreation Complex in Forty Fort were heavily damaged. Mericle provided the labor, equipment, and materials to quickly restore the fields in time for a major soccer tournament that hosts 420 teams and brings 5,000 visitors to the region.
Mericle’s flood prevention, flood cleanup, donations of space, and direct charitable contributions exceeded $987,000.
Mericle salutes all of the first responders, municipalities, and community organizations that worked together to help the region in its time of need.