Tropical Storm Agnes floods memories 46 years later


This weekend marks 46 years since Tropical Storm Agnes hit the Southern Tier and repercussions remain fresh with the people of Chemung County.

It was a typical rainy, summer day in Elmira on June 21, 1972. The mere hours before lives and landscapes changed forever. 

Later that evening, rainfall poured down as the Chemung River swelled high above the dikes. 

The river quickly swallowed up a once economically thriving city. 

Rich LaVere moved to the area a little over a decade after the devastation. He created a documentary about the flood called, Facing The Wall.

“Really what I noticed right away was that the old Elmira was really on its last legs,” LaVere, owner of Nutmeg Upcycling, said. “It was obvious that something had happened to this town because there were a lot of boarded up industries, a lot of it, vacant buildings, a lot of for sale signs. I didn’t see any new construction. Those things were pretty noticeable right from the start.”

About 15,000 people from the north and south sides of Elmira were evacuated and brought to nearby schools. 

“They had to rescue people with boats that they were driving down the street. There were a series of fires because electrical shorting out and pipes blowing and products caught fire and the firemen just could not get to buildings that were on fire and they were instructed to just let it burn because they couldn’t get anywhere in the city,” Rachel Dworkin, Chemung County Historical Society’s archivist, said. 

About 10 feet of water flowed through Corning and over a dozen people were reported dead or missing there. Elmira, remarkably, had none. 

Flood water receded relatively quick after the rain stopped. By June 24, most of the water withdrew, scattering debris and mud across the Southern Tier. 

“There was about $291.2 million worth of damage in Chemung County alone, and that’s not counting all the surrounding counties that also had quite a bit of damage as well,” Dworkin said.  

“For the people that say well, Elmira can’t get past the flood, I think that for the people who lived there, it was definitely a defining event,” LaVere said. “It ws something that they are not going to forget and hopefully we can come together as a community and rise above our fear of the river and really take advantage of it and understand that it’s an asset and not a liability.”

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