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 – It’s been 40 years since Hurricane Agnes devastated the Southern Tier. Elmira never recovered. Corning sort of did. The storm remains an example of how a “weak” system can deliver a catastrophic blow. At the time, it was the costliest hurricane in American history. The Syracuse Post-Standard gives an account of the flooding:

“Even today, it is a blur,” said retired Elmira City Fire Chief Donald H. Harrison, who in 1972 was a freshly minted lieutenant in the department. “We were so busy evacuating people. We were taking them off porch roofs, out of windows, from all sorts of situations. … The water came with such power, such speed, people could not get out. They had to run back to their houses and wait.”


Cars and houses smashed into bridges. People reported cattle — live and dead — bobbing on the river. Water covered two-thirds of the city. When it ended, the region’s death toll numbered 23.


An Elmira area firefighter tells The Associated Press: “We’re like a lost nation.”


One commonly expressed view is that while Agnes devastated Elmira’s downtown, the city of Corning managed to rebound stronger than ever. Corning, with 11,000 residents, is still about 40 percent the size of Elmira. But it is growing, while Elmira is shrinking.

Many of the downtown buildings in Corning and Elmira have high water marks. I always found Elmira rather depressing and locals blamed the flood. The city never bounced back. Agnes still haunts.

– The Democrat and Chronicle wrote about an all-boys program at School #9 and says it’s a success. I didn’t see any evidence that putting all boys together was the key. Rather, it seemed the emotional support given to the child who was profiled made the difference.

– An Albany Times Union columnist takes Andrew Cuomo to task for his “fracking baloney.”

The Buffalo News makes the case for cameras in court.

– DNA testing gives a detailed look at Michelle Obama’s ancestorsboth white and black.

17 Responses to Remembering Hurricane Agnes

  1. June 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm RaChaCha responds:

    When I was a tot my dad loaded the family into the station wagon for a Sunday drive (I know, right?) and we headed for Mt. Morris. I remember him holding me on his shoulders so I could see the Agnes water at the top of the dam from the overlook. In the gorge south of the dam, there’s still a “bathtub ring” of broken trees & debris left from Agnes. The only other time I recall the water getting even near the top of the dam was in 1993.

    • Yo, RaChaCha, the Army Corp of Engineers was worried about the water spilling over the top of the dam and damaging it so they decided to do a “controlled flood” by opening the gates so that the Genesee below would rise just enough to relieve the situation.

      Rodney Farms in Scottsville took a hit, 5-6′ in some spots, and the water lapped up to Scottsville Road.

      In Downtown ROC, they lowered the RG&E Court St. dam so that the water could more easily get up to the lake. It came within a few inches of the top of the river wall out in front of the hotels.

      There was a time before all these dams and river-walls that downtown would have flooded brooks Ave @ S. Plymouth all the way up to the S. Fitzhugh escarpment and all throughout the area which used to be Front and Water Streets.

      • June 18, 2012 at 10:42 am RaChaCha (on Twitter @HeyRaChaCha) responds:

        Wow — have heard stories about some of that during Agnes, and the periodic pre-Mt. Morris Dam flooding of the city. I saw the flooding at Rodney Farms firsthand in the 1993 flood. As one of the organizers and planners of the Genesee Valley Greenway, I’ve heard a lot of great river lore 🙂

  2. June 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm lynn e responds:

    As a kid my family belonged to the Puntneyville Mariners club in Wayne County which had a huge beach on Lake Ontario. After Agnes, the beach was probably reduced to a third ot what it was. It remains that size today. Agnes didn’t just affect the Southern Tier though they suffered the most.

  3. June 17, 2012 at 2:24 pm RaChaCha responds:

    Now that you mention it, my family had a place on the lake in Niagara County which saw a complete shoreline transformation thanks to Agnes. I have early memories of beach that didn’t exist post-Agnes. Also, after Agnes, the State (I presume) brought in gigantic boulders to protect the remaining shoreline. The boulder shoreline really hindered access to the water and was worse (in my opinion) than anything Agnes did.

  4. June 18, 2012 at 7:55 am LtCoolJ responds:

    I remember, as a kid, the flooding in almost every town. (Finger lakes). Most vividly was a fish that has swam onto a bridge. As we tried to cross the bridge (DUMB BY TODAYS STANDARD) the fish was racing us in an attempt to get back to deeper water. That has never left my memory.

  5. June 18, 2012 at 1:32 pm Jim Webster responds:

    A “weak” system? Rach, you better do some research before you make a comment like this on something that happened when you were, what, in diapers, if at all.
    That storm was devastating to hundreds of thousands.
    Shame on you for making light of it.
    Another example of your idea of sensational “journalism”.

    • June 18, 2012 at 3:48 pm RaChaCha responds:

      Jim: what mike86 says. It wasn’t any sturm und drang from Agnes that cause the damage, rather the shear volume of rain over so many days that the storm was stalled far exceeded the capacity of rivers & creeks to channel away.

      What’s with the chip on your shoulder–? No one’s making light of Agnes here — far from it. Get out and enjoy some sunshine!

      • June 19, 2012 at 9:28 am Jim Webster responds:

        I agree with exactly what Mike says. And, yes, I took exception to the “weak” comment. That storm was devastating to thousands, and exactly because it stayed so long.
        No, I do not have a chip on my shoulder. I take exception with poorly thought out comments, and Rachael is known to make her share, without proper research. Such can be the state of journalism.
        And maybe it’s because I have some resentment to her comments as a result of the many thousands of sandbags I and countless other volunteers filled and placed along River Rd as a result of this “weak” storm.

        • June 19, 2012 at 10:43 am RaChaCha responds:

          Jim Webster, you’re still sore over the word “weak” even though several people have explained exactly why the use of the term is entirely reasonable. But you can’t let go because it’s your club to bash Rachel for ZOMG MAKING COMMENTS!!!@! and having opinions on _her own blog_. So, clearly, you do have a chip on your shoulder. Again, get out and enjoy some sunshine.

          With that out of the way: sandbagging is brutal, exhausting work, usually done under the worst circumstances. I salute you for your efforts during Agnes.

          • JW: try cutting about 3′ of caked river silt in and around support columns, utilities and storage boxes in a crawl space of a 2 story home down by the Genesee in Filmore, NY. The stuff smelled something awful, too. Couldn’t pitch it out of the cellar stairway. Had to use one of those short-handled square spades, dice it out of there and carry it up to a bobcat’s front bucket.

            My buddy’s mother turned out never wanted to go back in the house and sold it after rennovation to go live on high ground in the Italy Hills area.

    • June 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm Rachel responds:

      The NWS called it a weak system, not me. It was the first Cat 1 Hurricane to have its name retired, Nowhere did I say it was not devastating. But scientists do consider it a weak system.

      • June 19, 2012 at 9:32 am Jim Webster responds:

        Kind of an oxymoron, isn’t it? A “weak” storm that has it’s name retired.
        All I know is, it was devastating, as your comments pointed out. But I’m not sure it was the death knell for Elmira. There’s a lot of other mitigating factors.

  6. June 18, 2012 at 3:38 pm mike86 responds:

    Hurricane Agnes was a weak hurricane by the time it reached our area but it combined with a front going through and stalled over the area and rained for days.

  7. R, it was a “weak system<' especially when it got up to us.

    Problem is it was very dispersed and widespread when it came inland and it got blocked by a some kind ,of front in Canada and was prevented from continuing on and totally dispersing.

    The result was it dumped a huge amount of water over PA and the southern tier of NY which swelled the streams and rivers.

    I helped clean my my buddy's mother's house who lived in Filmore, NY on the east side of Rt. 19. The Genesee rose extremely fast up to her second story. The water line was just below the second story windows.

    Where we were, the wind and rain was hardly even destructive, it was the duration, area coverage, volume and run-off that did everyone in.

  8. June 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm Jim Webster responds:

    Lots of good comments here. Despite of, or perhaps in spite of, the NWS rankings, the storm was devastating to 1000’s of people.
    I’m proud of what little help I could provide then, and I’m very sorry for the devastation I saw in Owego this year. But Mother Nature rules.
    BTW, RaChaCha, what does ZOMG mean? And I have no problem with Rachel stating her opinion on her blog. What I do have a problem with is journalists trying to create opinion. It’s their job, on a blog or a newscast, to report the news. It’s our job to make our own opinions. All too frequently, the new business wants to make our opinions for us. I resent that. So if I have a chip on my shoulder for that, and I don’t believe I do, I wear it proudly.

  9. June 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm Jim Webster responds:

    correction: “news business”

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