Friday, April 20, 2018

Hurricane Agnes floods Manassas in 1972

Loch Lomond-West Gate is Under Blanket of Water,
photo by Bennie Scarton Jr., Manassas Journal Messenger.
The Murphy house is circled in red.
The 52 Ancestors theme this week is “storms.”

This coming June, it will have been 46 years since Hurricane Agnes wreaked havoc on Canada, Cuba, and eight states along the southeastern U.S. coast, including the Commonwealth of Virginia. Since the 52 Ancestors theme this week is “storms,” I’ll share the storm memories of my husband Charlie and his brother Pat, who lived in Manassas at the time.

The summer of 1972 started out like many others for my husband’s family—going on a camping trip, something they did a lot. About June 20 or 21, they packed up the Shasta camper, hooked it up to their vehicle, and left their home in the Loch Lomond subdivision of Manassas, Virginia, heading to the Indian Acres campground in Thornburg, Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Grandma Bertha (Smith) Athya, who lived with them in Manassas, stayed home, not making the camping trip.

They had been camping for probably not more than a day when it started raining, enough that my father-in-law Earl Murphy felt he needed to move the camper to higher ground. Fearing he might not be able to get out, he moved the camper to temporary parking in the campground store parking lot where they stayed overnight. The rain was still coming down the next day so they decided to head home to Manassas. After all, it’s not much fun to camp in the rain. When they got back to town, they came upon stopped traffic due to flooding at the Lake Jackson bridge there in Manassas. Mind you, this was long before everyone had smart phones, social media, and 24/7 news coverage so they had no idea that Hurricane Agnes had been traveling up the east coast. Hurricane Agnes formed on June 14 and made landfall in Florida on June 19, 1972. From there, it headed up the east coast, affecting Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. The storm hit Manassas on June 22 which was the day they came home and discovered that the Lake Jackson Dam was flooding. The water was so high the police were only allowing one car at a time to cross the bridge. In fact, the bridge had been closed and had just reopened right before they arrived. The water level there was normally 30–40 feet below the Lake Jackson bridge.

Lake Jackson Dam on June 22, 1972 during  Hurricane Agnes,
photo by Dwayne Moyers,
Although less than five miles from home, it took them a long time to get there. Because many roads were flooded, rerouting traffic was difficult. Streets around their house were still under water—lower Lomond Drive and Amherst Drive—so they had to be rerouted many times. This forced Earl to have to drive down Manassas Drive in Manassas Park to get home. And he hated Manassas Park. My husband and brother recalled their Dad having to drive through Manassas Park once, going to the drug store to buy a greeting card for their Mom. It was either their anniversary, her birthday, or Mother’s Day—a day he usually gave her a card. The speed limit on Manassas Drive was 25 (and still is). Earl was driving down the road with two cars in front and two cars in back of him. His car was the only one from Prince William County—the others were all from Manassas Park. The police were apparently monitoring the road that day and he was the one that got pulled over and was given a speeding ticket, even though they were all going the same speed. When he got home, he stormed in the house and threw the card at their Mom saying “here’s your damn card!” After that, he avoided Manassas Drive whenever he could, but it was impossible to do so that day if he wanted to get home. They tried to go down Route 28 to Yorkshire Lane but couldn’t go any further because of water so turned around. It was at that point, Earl refused to drive down Manassas Drive and so he took the long way around town, coming in to Lomond Drive from the other side. But he got there and found he couldn’t go any further because of high water. So, he had to turn around and go back all the way around town and take Manassas Drive through Manassas Park to get home.

Once they finally made their way up Appomattox Avenue and arrived home, they found the water receding and already about 25 yards from the house. Unfortunately, there was still approximately three feet of water in the basement. They also discovered that Grandma Athya thankfully was no longer at home. Charlie and Pat said not knowing about the hurricane and having no clue about the water in their house, they hadn’t been worried about her on the way home from the campground. Lucky for Grandma Athya, Charlie’s sister and brother-in-law lived in Manassas and were able to get her out of the house. Grandma Athya refused to leave the house for some reason—like she was going to stop the water Pat recalled jokingly. Their brother-in-law literally had to pick her up and carry her out of the house. He took her to his mother’s house, safely away from the flooding waters.

Pat recalls wanting to get plywood so he could go float on the water. He also remembers that the water was full of sewage and his Mom screaming “don’t go in the water, you’ll get typhoid!” Charlie remembers standing on top of Bedford Street (now Byron Street) watching a neighbor drive a flat bottom boat through his second story picture window to get stuff out of the house.

The basement had five rooms—a den, two bedrooms, laundry room, workroom, and a bathroom. Everything in the basement was ruined and had to be tossed. Charlie and Pat remember load after load being taken to the dump—furniture and lots of National Geographic books. They were able to save Grandma Athya’s cedar chest though. Earl refurbished it and later gave it to Charlie’s oldest niece. Earl pulled the wood paneling away from the wall and to let it dry out. No one had flood insurance. Charlie believes they received some type of assistance (they got new furniture) although he doesn’t know how. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wasn’t created until 1979 so it wasn’t from them. He doesn’t know how they managed it all but It took all summer to clean up the basement.

On a side note, Pat’s future girlfriend was seven years old at the time and had an outdoor birthday party planned that weekend. Her party had to be cancelled because of the storm. She was upset and wanted to know who was this lady Agnes and why did she ruin her birthday party!

Hurricane Agnes did $2.1 billion in damage and 128 people were killed. Because of this, they retired the name “Agnes” afterwards. And it still periodically comes up in conversation in the Murphy household.

To find Library of Virginia Flickr photos of the damage done by Hurricane Agnes in Virginia, click here.

If you’d like to read previous “storm” posts I’ve written, click on the links below.

52 Ancestors - #26: Cindarilla Darliska Amanda Hall – survivor of historic 1900 Galveston hurricane (week 10)

52 Ancestors – News Articles from 1893 and 1900 Corroborate 1964 Aaron Hall Holland Letter (86-2016)

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