WEST PITTSTON — Jim Lewis, the owner of Chuck’s Auction House, remembers feelings of despair and desperation when he saw the damage to his business after the Susquehanna River receded in 2011.
“I can’t describe to you what that is like to see your lifetime (of hard work) under three feet of water,” Lewis said Friday at a press conference at the West Pittston Borough Building. “If you don’t know flood mud, you don’t know mud.”
Officials said the morning event was intended to highlight the strength and perseverance of the Wyoming Valley’s residents and the development of the Luzerne County Small Business Loan Program, which helped many small business owners rebuild and continue to foster business growth in the region.
“The Wyoming Valley is no stranger to high waters, ” said state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township. “We thought we knew what to expect every storm that rolled through the Valley. But on that September day five years ago, the Susquehanna River surprised us once again.”
In September 2011, Tropical Storm Lee released an abundance of rain over Northeast Pennsylvania. The swollen Susquehanna River crested at 42 feet above flood stage and overflowed its banks, flooding homes, businesses and chasing residents to higher and dryer ground.
Over 200 homes and business were destroyed and 800 buildings sustained structural damage from the flood waters in the Wyoming Valley, Yudichak said.
Yudichak visited West Pittston in the wake of the flood. He said he walked down York Avenue and entered homes as families stood awestruck by the damage that surrounded him.
“What can you say to a family who had six feet of water on the first floor of their home?” Yudichak asked. “What do you do when you stand with a business owner who has invested their entire life into a business and it is washed away?”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency offered financial and housing assistance to homeowners, but help to get business owners back on their feet was non-existent, Lewis said.
“Local banks had no idea how to approach this (business financing following the flooding),” he said. “When you are looking at a scenario of no income that ended up to be about three months – I mean you can’t suck up five or six percent interest (on a business loan).
“If it had not been for these guys that put the program together, it wasn’t going to happen.”
Legislators worked with MetroAction, a subsidiary of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, to develop the county’s Small Business Loan Program.
The program offered $100,000 at zero percent interest for the first six months and a one percent rate for the balance of the loan to aid small businesses to re-establish themselves after the flood, Yudichak said.
“I’m proud to report that 33 local businesses have been supported by nearly $2 million in loan funding under the new program that created another 200 jobs in communities from West Pittston to Hazleton,” Yudichak said. “It is a perpetual revolving loan program. New jobs will continue to be created, and new small business will continue to be built for generations to come.”
Reach Eileen Godin at 570-991-6387 or on Twitter @TLNews.