Special Report: Flood of 1972 - Living Through the Flood
CORNING (WENY)---The Flood of '72 is something that no one who lived through it will ever forget.
Corning city mayor Joseph Nasser delivered this radio announcement early in the morning on June 23, 1972. “We do not believe that the water will reach the top of the dyke however we're watching it very closely and if we feel like we need to set plans in motion we'll notify everyone”
Unfortuantely that wasn't the case and rain from tropical storm Agnes quickly overwhelmed area rivers.
Flooding began early friday morning in corning, catching residents off guard.
Corning resident and Nurses Aid, Sheila McFall, said, “And then it was the corning glass whistle blew around 4 o'clock in the morning. It was a steady sound you will never forget.”
They watched in awe as the water continued to rise far above anything they had ever seen before.
“We ended up having 3.5 feet on the 2nd floor at our home literally destroying everything but the pictures on the walls,” said AJ Fracarcangelo.
McFall recalls looking into the streets. She said, “You could see many storefronts on market st. were broken and the contents of those stores swirled around chemung st. in front of the hospital and down towards 3rd st.”
“They end up putting full coal cars on the tracks to try to hold the bridge down and no one realized the water was going to get that deep and it became a dam actually pulled the cars and the bridge with it,” said Kinsbury street resident, Art Hoffstetter.
Floodwaters moved down the chemung river through east corning, big flats, and then elmira, quickly filling the city and forcing the evacuation of thousands.
Elmira resident, Katie Button remembers the day. She said, “By that friday morning i know when i looked across we lived on clinton st. I looked across on 3rd there were children playing out in the yard. That afternoon i saw a boat go down 3rd street.”
“And police at that point took the attitude that if it was flaoting in the river it was fair game. There were people up there with fishing nets reaching down and people with fishing poles trying to snag things,” said Elmira Resident, Joel Robinson.
Once the water finally began to recede, residents saw for the first time the devastation left behind.
Mable English, a Corning Nurse said, “When we got over centerway bridge and saw market st. it looked like war had come through. It was just... people crying not knowing where to go.”
“Fitch's bridge conencted Rt. 352 to golden glow was washed out. For us to get anywhere into elmira it was a long trip over mt. Zoar or into corning we'd have to come back over steege hill,” said Golden Glow Neighborhood Resident, Connie Martin.
Another Elmira resident, James Kelley Junior, recalls his experiences during the flood, saying, “I had my fishing waders on and if you walked through the mud it felt like you were walking in glue it would pull your boot off your foot.”\
Jim Pfiffer, also an Elmira resident, said, “Two of my friends and i were walking down the street in corning in about 8 inches of water there in the middle was my friend walking in the middle with a shovel over his shoulders like this and he stepped into an open man hole. If he hadn't had that shovel over his shoulders to protect him he would have been swept under and never would have seen him again.”
In the face of what was then the nation's costliest natural disaster, the people of twin tiers proved resilient.
“The sense of community that grew out of that, when one house was finished the neighbors would go over and help the other neighbors. Really build a sense of community in a lot of the neighborhoods that I saw,” said Robinson.