Ivan's Aftermath

Flooding less severe than expected

In Harrisburg, a collective sigh of relief


September 21, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

HARRISBURG, PA. — HARRISBURG, Pa.-- Vern Williams cradled his pet iguana Speedy and stared at the muddy pool of water covering his street in the waterfront neighborhood of Shipoke.

Minutes earlier, he had gotten his first look at what the Susquehanna River, swollen by rains from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan, had done to the house he just finished restoring a few blocks from the water.

"We laid new cream-colored carpet Thursday. Now it's that color," he said pointing at the dull brown rapids surging nearby. Speedy also underwent a color change, from his typical dark green to a greenish gray, as he endured a 45-degree Sunday night on the second floor of Williams' house.

"He's cold, but he'll survive," Williams said. "We all will."

Residents of Shipoke, the hardest-hit neighborhood in the flooded capital city, were allowed a first look at their soaked and dirtied homes yesterday afternoon. And many, like Williams, concluded that Ivan had done them wrong but not as wrong as it could have.

"It's still a horrible ordeal," said Pamela Ingavo, whose basement, like most in the neighborhood, was filled to the brim with water. "But it sure could have been a lot worse. That's why we're smiling."

The Susquehanna crested Sunday evening at more than 24 feet, its seventh-highest recorded level. Flooding closed roads, bridges and the main highway ramp into downtown. City Island, a popular mid-river recreational site and the location of Harrisburg's minor-league ballpark, was under at least 5 feet of water.

About 2,000 Harrisburg residents were evacuated Sunday morning, and about 1,500 remained out of their homes yesterday. Gov. Edward G. Rendell ordered more than 10,000 state workers not to come to their jobs yesterday, though floodwaters did not reach the downtown government district. And the city faces a multimillion-dollar cleanup, said spokesman Randy King.

King said the flooding was most spectacular in Shipoke and on City Island. He said the ball field where the Class AA Harrisburg Senators, a Montreal Expos affiliate, play was covered by a foot of river silt yesterday.

When asked if it was good that the flood didn't happen during the season, King said, "There is no good here; it's less worse."

He estimated that the city would spend months cleaning the park.

The river had receded several feet by yesterday afternoon, but it still covered the parking lot and the first floor of a garage deck at City Island.

"This is pretty wild, seeing it like this," said Mark Harper, one of many who stopped along the Market Street bridge to gawk at the park.

"This just doesn't happen," added his companion, Marisa Smyers.

Harrisburg is no stranger to flooding, but this weekend's overflow, fueled by 4 to 7 inches of rain that fell at the end of last week, was the worst since a bad winter melt in 1996, residents said.

The first block of Shipoke, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, comes within 50 feet of the Susquehanna. That makes it a wonderfully scenic haunt most days of the year but ground zero during floods.

"When you live here on the river, it goes with the territory," said Bob Hostetter, who has lived in Shipoke for eight years. "But it's just a wonderful place to live. It's beautiful, and it's a real neighborhood."

Hostetter lives right on the river but made it through with only a few puddles in his living room.

"I think most of us are happy because it's not devastated here," he said, after exchanging damage reports with several neighbors.

A block over, Showers Lane, which lies a few feet lower, was covered in 4 feet of water. Lined by renovated houses painted in bright red, blue and yellow, it looked more like a picture from Venice than a middle-class Pennsylvania street.

The standing water was up to the windows of a few cars. Pumps whirred on every corner as residents and business owners began a cleanup they say will last for months.

"Even now, if you take away the mud, it's pretty picturesque," said Williams.

He said he took pictures from a nearby bridge Sunday that show a Shipoke with no streets or sidewalks, just waterways.

"We were gonna move into our house this week ... gonna," he said. Now, Williams said, he, Speedy and two other iguanas will have to wait a little longer.

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