Forty Fort Meeting House
and Cemetery

Hurricane Agnes - June 14-25, 1972

Agnes was one of the largest June hurricanes on record. Banded convection was first noted in the northwest Caribbean Sea on June 11. A polar front dropped into region from the northwest. As the front approached, a depression formed over the Yucatan on the 14th and moved eastward into the northwest Caribbean Sea. The system strengthened into a tropical storm during the night of the 15th, and a hurricane on the 18th as it moved northward in the Gulf of Mexico. Moving into the Florida panhandle as a hurricane, the system quickly weakened into a tropical depression as it moved through Georgia on the 20th.

A significant trough in the Westerlies approached Agnes, which led to a second low developing west of Agnes. The two cyclones moved in tandem and strengthened, with Agnes regaining tropical storm strength over North Carolina and moved offshore Norfolk, Virginia. While offshore New Jersey, Agnes became a strong tropical storm again before it swung back inland near the western tip of Long
Island, becoming absorbed into the extratropical cyclone over Pennsylvania soon after.

The highest amount of rain occurred in Western Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania where 480 mm (19 in) was measured. This large amount of rain caused severe flooding throughout the region. The worst urban flooding occurred in Elmira, New York and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

On June 22,1972 the murky waters of the Susquehanna River reached eight feet above normal river levels. Fourteen hundred National Guardsmen were ordered to the area where they employed efforts to secure low-lying areas by erecting walls of shale, sandbags, and rock. Town officials issued evacuation notices and urged the 72,000 members of surrounding communities to leave their homes immediately. Either out of stubbornness or good faith, some residents refused to budge and decided to wait out the storm. Perhaps it was a misconception regarding the severity of the circumstances that had lead some residents to make the decision to stay. Not sensing the urgency, most believed Hurricane Agnes' onset meant little more than light flooding in their basements. Regardless of their reasoning, some families simply refused to leave their homes unprotected, whether from the flooding that was about to ensue or potential looters. In preparation, families hoarded food supplies, relocated furniture and valuable possessions to higher levels in their homes, and made somewhat futile attempts to prevent water damage by lining doorways with rolled up rugs, newspapers, and even toilet paper.

By Friday, June 23, the river swelled to 38.5 feet; the dike had long since buckled and left surrounding towns truly vulnerable. By Saturday evening, the water levels had reached their peak. In the end, Hurricane Agnes pummeled Wilkes-Barre and the Wyoming Valley with 14 trillion gallons of water; submerging homes and destroying communities. The storm completely destroyed 3,500 homes while damaging 64,000 houses in Pennsylvania; 13,000 of those homes were located in Wilkes-Barre. In Kingston, only 30 of the 6,600 homes that comprised the town were left unscathed by the implacable fury of Hurricane Agnes.

An entire section of the historic Forty Fort Cemetery was washed away and about 2,000 caskets were uprooted from their graves, leaving body parts on back porches, roofs and basement floors.