CV At 40: Natural Disasters Topped Headlines In 2010s
There has been no shortage of news in Luzerne County this past decade, and The Citizens’ Voice newsroom staffers were always on the chase for the most memorable events — those that dominated headlines, stirred emotions and especially affected readers.
The decade is still ongoing, but area residents have already experienced devastating natural disasters, the effects of greed on children’s innocence and yet another scandal in the Catholic church. These are just some of the headlines that have had the county wishing for better days; however, there is always room for improvement and the Wyoming Valley continues to show its heart as it puts its head down and strides toward the next decade.
The first major natural disaster of the decade, but certainly one not to be forgotten, is the flood of 2011. No one thought the 1972 flood records Hurricane Agnes created would be broken, but the swollen Susquehanna River had other ideas, cresting at 42.66 feet.
The flood wiped out businesses, and made once bustling downtowns in areas of Bloomsburg, Mocanaqua, Pittston, Plains Twp., Plymouth Twp., Shickshinny and West Pittston, shells of what they once were. However, since the flood, mitigation projects, new downtowns and new flood plans have been constant conversation topics at city meetings, showing that the county is learning and respecting the mighty Susquehanna.
Though flooding is most common to the Valley, this decade also brought a tornado and a major snowstorm that buried Wyoming Valley. On March 14, 2017, it seemed as if the snow would never stop as 22.1 inches was dumped on Wyoming Valley. The storm shut down Wilkes-Barre and surrounding communities, with most schools being closed for the week. Wyoming County saw up to 30 inches of snow, but luckily, there were no deaths or serious injuries due to the storm.
Another natural disaster this decade was the tornado that touched down this year in Wilkes-Barre Twp. on June 13. An EF2 tornado — a twister with wind speeds of 130 mph — wreaked havoc near the Wilkes-Barre Township Commons and Arena Hub Plaza along Mundy Street. Eleven businesses were destroyed and nine sustained major damage. However, even though U-Haul trucks were thrown through the air and store windows were blown out, only six people sustained injuries.
The decade has also seen its fair share of struggle when it comes to the opioid crisis, which seems to just be getting worse. The year 2017 was the deadliest year ever for drug overdoses in Luzerne County with 144 overdose deaths as of the final week of December, four more than the previous year due to the continued distribution and use of ultra-lethal fentanyl, a synthetic opioid much more powerful than heroin. These numbers continue to grow despite public awareness campaigns and the widespread distribution of the opioid-reversal drug naloxone, commonly called by the brand name Narcan. The problem is a crisis, and for the first time ever, Luzerne County prosecutors started charging drug dealers in connection with overdose deaths. The pursuit of criminal charges in drug deaths is new because of a state Superior Court ruling that said prosecutors no longer have to prove a drug dealer acted with malice and intended to kill the user.
In August 2018, another blight hit the area and it came from a place where most go to find the light. In devastating detail, a 1,356-page statewide investigating grand jury report excoriates the Diocese of Scranton and five other Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses as confederates in dismissing victims of widespread sexual abuse by priests and routinely covering up the abuse. The Diocese of Scranton also released a list of 70 priests and other religious leaders “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children. One of the Scranton diocese’s cases involved a priest, Thomas Skotek, who raped and impregnated an underage girl and arranged for her to have an abortion in the 1980s. The Diocese of Scranton put out a statement, reading: “The Diocese of Scranton remains firmly committed to offering pastoral care to survivors of sexual abuse and maintaining a comprehensive array of policies and programs to protect children.”
Kids for Cash
In 2008, the kids-for-cash scandal broke wide open. A group of youths sentenced in the county’s juvenile court and their parents claimed that judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan had open discussions with county officials about $2.8 million in payments the judges received from the backers of a for-profit juvenile detention facility. A jury found Ciavarella guilty of racketeering and other charges in the case. Conahan pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. The impact of the scandal has stretched into this decade in the form of long-running civil-rights lawsuits against the former judges and related people, as well as lengthy appeals by Ciavarella, who recently won a new trial on some of the charges.
Wilkes-Barre Area school plans
The Wilkes-Barre Area School District plans to build a new high school to merge the district’s three high schools — GAR, Coughlin and Meyers. The consolidated high school is expected to open in the 2021-22 school year. In 2017, the school board abandoned a plan to merge Coughlin and Meyers high schools in a new facility built on the Coughlin site in downtown Wilkes-Barre as a result of the city zoning board rejecting the plan. The board also abandoned a plan to build an addition to Kistler Elementary School for 7th and 8th grades because of the decision to merge all three high schools and use the GAR building as a middle school. However, since then, district is buying the 80-acre site from Pagnotti Enterprises for $4.25 million.
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