Elmira/Corning Regional Airport

Part 2: Working During the Flood of 1972

Written By: Joe Veres
Special Report Flood ’72 Part 2
CORNING (WENY)---Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the devastating flood of 1972.

For many it meant putting their personal lives on hold to get the job done. Agnes devastated corning and Elmira 40 years ago. It seems like yesterday to the people who worked through the flood.

Nurses Aid, Sheila McFall came to work Friday morning and remembers how quickly the water rose. 

She said, “I heard an enormous roar like you were under a railroad tressle or something. A horrid noise. Flood waters were just pouring, pouring into the hospital at that point the doorway was almost 3/4 the full with water.”  

Hospital staff worked through the night without power, caring for patients, waiting to evacuate.

“It was on Saturday morning that we began a mass evacuation with helicopters, station wagons, anything.” 

In Elmira, firefighters and cops worked tirelessly to help people.

Don Harrison, a member of the Elmira Fire Department in 1972 said, “Most of the time was spent taking people off their porch roofs, off their main roofs of their house. Out of their second floor windows. Where they had no way of escaping the ensuing water.” 

Another EPD member, Dick Wandell recalls the time, saying, “We'd take a boat down Water Street and you would have to duck down so your head wouldn't hit the traffic signals you see how high those are now. That was spooky.”

Journalists working for WENY-TV News faced their own set of problems. The TV studio at the former Mark Twain hotel completely flooded. 

Tom Seem, a WENY-TV Anchor and Reporter from 1972 said, “The station could not broadcast the radio station and the TV station were off the air because of power and other problems. So it was really difficult to want and go out and shoot pictures and report on the damage and report on the recovery when we couldn't get on the air.”

It was a temporary problem fixed by quick thinking and heavy lifting. WENY-TV Program Director at the time, John Herrick, said, “But then we went up to Holly Hill where the transmitter site is. We were able to broadcast from there a very antiquated situation but we were able to do that.”

Elmira Police faced health issues as mud turned to dust.

“Once the rain stopped and it started to dry up now you got mud turning to sand turning to dust and we'd have dust storms. Police officers were out directing traffic in the middle of intersections and just the heat and the dust would finally knock them down and we'd have to get them off the street for a few hours.” 

It was an emotional time for people who worked through the event. But without their efforts, an already tragic situation would have been much worse. 

“I don't know if there are even words to describe what it's like to leave your hospital and you finally have your patients gone and there's nothing left here other than total disaster and you wonder if we'll ever come back but we did.”

To this day, the flood of '72 remains the worst flood on record for both Elmira and Corning.