CORNING, NY (WETM) – Corning, New York was able to recover from the Flood of ’72, unlike any other surrounding city. But that doesn’t mean its residents didn’t suffer the traumas that ensued from Hurricane Agnes.
Dan Wilhelm was 21 years old, and in critical condition at the former Corning Hospital, now 176 Denison apartment buildings. He was supposed to undergo major surgery, but then, the water began to flood the streets of the city.
From the second floor of the hospital, Wilhelm watched the water rushing up Denison Parkway, “I actually saw the furniture wash out through the windows,” he said.
Through tears, Dan recalls his worst fear on that day, “You don’t know where your family is.”
He didn’t know for days. All patients at the hospital were transported to various service stations. Wilhelm was brought to the Montour Fire Academy not knowing if his parents were even alive
“My mother and grandmother got a list from the hospital officials of all the places that we were taken, and they visited each and every one…I can’t imagine what that was like,” Wilhelm said in between sobs.
The houses and lives of families like Wilhelm’s were ruined. But the city’s biggest corporation was not about to let their community drown.
“Corning Incorporated dedicated themselves to this city, to stay here, and to help with the rebuilding efforts,” said Sean Lukasik, President of the board for Heritage Village/Corning Painted Post Historical Society.
Before the flood, there was already a plan coming together on how to rebuild the city. In a way, the flood helped to foster the city’s revitalization.
“The flood actually acted a bit like a blank slate,” said Lukasik.
This led to Corning being one of the first examples of historic revitalization in the entire country.
Aside from the support from Corning Inc., it was the community that brought the city back to life.
“The people of Corning decided that this was not going to break them…Young, old, and in between, fought together,” said City of Corning Mayor, Bill Boland.
Dan recalls one of the many heroic acts from that day.
“A woman whom… I assume was a nurse… waded through flood water, which is the nastiest stuff you can imagine…to come into the hospital and help people like me,” said Wilhelm.
“That’s how people survive these things. Your friends, your family, your neighbors. They help out,” Wilhelm said, once again choking back tears.