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 Volume X Issue II Fall - 2006 
You Don't Think It Could Happen To You
By Nancy Sue 'Haynes' Burns '56

It wasn't long ago that we watched the devastating floods in the south that were the result of Katrina. And closer to home, about ten years ago we saw Walton's main street literally buried under water. Our thoughts and prayers went out to all the flood victims, but truly we could not make it seem real. It could never happen to us in our community.

We live in Sidney, on Weir Street, along the bank of the Susquehanna River in a home my grandparents had built sometime around 1905. Four generations have grown up in this house, so there are lots of memories and ghosts, the good kind.

From our deck on the back of our house we have enjoyed watching the wildlife. The ducks that arrive early in the spring, sometimes when the ice on the river is like little cubes, bobbing along. Then there are the geese, honking and creating quite a ruckus. There is the occasional long legged bird - the heron or egret - that flies up the river its long wings whipping in the air. Along the bank of the river on the other side, we often spot the sleek head of an otter or two cavorting like kids and several times we have even seen a displaced beaver.

At General Clinton Canoe Regatta time we enjoy relaxing on the deck with a clear view of the canoes coming down the river, vying for the lead.

Winter brings its own kind of beauty on the river when the frozen water gleams in the sun and tree branches hang low glistening and twinkling like tiny diamonds. If we are lucky, we might see a young deer come down to the water on the other side looking for a tender shoot poking up through the snow. In winters past, colder than recent ones, when the ice went out in the spring it sounded like thunder. We would see the chunks hanging together climbing on top of each other as if trying to escape.

Usually the river is tranquil, even in spring. Once in awhile there are pockets where it swirls angrily, and on occasion the water has come up within a few feet of our deck, but generally it appears quite peaceful.

I could not get this view of the river, our river, out of my mind. But today was different. It had rained steadily and hard all night, the rain falling on an already swollen river.

I had planned to go into the newspaper office early, knowing that my boss, Ken Paden, would probably be pumping out his cellar on Maple Avenue. But I was not expecting the scene that was to unfold. The end of Gilbert Street that crosses Weir Street was flooded. But I wasn't too alarmed - yet. There were several blockades on River Street but my husband, Ray, and I were allowed through. We pulled the van over to take photographs of the flooding at the Sidney Fireman's Field and Nature Trail and the Elks Lodge. Those were areas we were accustomed to seeing flooding in the spring but not as intensive.

Soon after a few of us had arrived at the Tri-Town News office in the Sidney Industrial Park, my daughters who had been listening to radio reports of the flooding called urging me not to stay. It wasn't long before Ken instructed us to shut down everything and leave. Some of the downtown areas were being evacuated. By now we knew something out of the ordinary was going on- and it wasn't good.

When Ray and I turned down Weir Street, there were firemen and equipment blocking the way. Our good neighbor, Joe Maddalone, an experienced Sidney fireman, came off his porch looking worried and told us we had to leave - now! We had already heard that Ken Paden and his family had been evacuated from their Maple Ave home by boat, and there was a possibility water might be released from the East Sidney Dam. Knowing that, we felt we could not delay.

What to take? I grabbed the first things that came to mind - photographs and letters from classmates. I was working on a booklet for our 50's class reunion. Later we thought of all the other items we should have taken, important papers and practical things, like tooth brushes, and toothpaste and a change of clothes. Things that were listed on a what to take with you in an emergency situation; something I had read recently, but obviously did not pay attention to.

Where do we go? It was rather frightening. We have daughters and their families in Guilford and South New Berlin and Cobleskill and a son and his family in Binghamton who offered us places to stay but there was no way to reach them. Bridges were washed out and roads flooded. It was unreal.

First things first. It was noon and neither of us had eaten breakfast. We'd get a bite to eat before making any decisions. Many of the places where we could get something to eat were closed but our newest food store, Price Chopper had some really tasty pizza. The friendly and sympathetic lady behind the counter told us she had been waiting on many "homeless folks".

We sat at a picnic table at McDonald's to eat our pizza, realizing that we had to deal with "where are we going?" We already checked the local motel and there was "no room at the inn". We turned to our community radio station WCDO. They were doing their best to give people as much information as possible. We learned there were two evacuation centers in Sidney - at the Sidney Middle School and the Christian Alliance Church. While we certainly appreciate the fact there are many kind and caring people who want to help, there's something unnerving about having no place to go--or rather, no place you can get to except an evacuation shelter.

Sometimes we think of our modern technological inventions like the cell phone, as being a nuisance rather than a convenience. But this was one time when our cell phone was a reassurance- our only link to family and friends. And as it turned out an answer to our prayers, a place to stay. A long time young friend, Scott Barnard, lives in Las Vegas, NV where their newspaper had carried a story about our flood. He immediately called his mom, Nancy Barnard in Sidney, to tell her about the "homeless Burns" and her immediate response was "I'll go get them." Nancy graciously opened her home to us.

Remembering all we had was the clothes on our backs, we made a stop at K-Mart to pick up some essentials. It was disconcerting. I wandered almost aimlessly, trying to think what we really needed. Usually I am quite organized, a list maker. But somehow I couldn't get my mind wrapped around the idea that we couldn't just go home and get what we needed. I saw people shopping-laughing and talking and I wondered how many of them are evacuees.

Later Ray and I went out to take photographs for the Tri-Town News, the firemen and the police were very helpful taking him out in a boat something else that seemed surreal, a boat in downtown Sidney.

In spite of my concern for our own home and what might have been lost in the flood, having a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach about cherished items that might be gone, we knew we were very fortunate. Our family was safe. Family and friends had been calling to check on us and we had a very comfortable place to stay. And an extra bonus, Nancy Barnard, makes the best homemade donuts you ever want to taste. She had made donuts to take to the firemen and had shared some with us.

Yes we lost some things but they are just that"things". I know we will be able to appreciate the beauty of the Susquehanna River again. Although when it rises, and we know it will come up again, we may experience a bit of unease and need to reassure ourselves that the flood of June 2006 was indeed the 100 year flood, something we will not see again in our lifetime.