Approximately one-third of the Jewish residents in flood ravaged Johnstown, Pa. have either been displaced from their homes or had their businesses damaged, according to Jim Young, assistant director of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds (CJF), who has just returned from Johnstown where he spent two days assessing the flood’s affect on the Jewish community. Fortunately, Young said, no Jewish lives were lost.
The death toll has risen to 59, with up to 60 people still missing as a result of last week’s savage flooding from the overflowing Conemaugh River valley. As it continued to rain, civil defense officials warned of the possibility of more flooding. Gov. Milton J. Shapp has estimated total damage in the area at $200 million.
Young was scheduled to return to Johnstown today to meet with local Jewish community leaders to determine specific needs and to finalize plans for assisting the businessmen and displaced persons affected by the flood. Over 25 Jewish businesses have sustained severe structural damage and loss of stock due to the mud and water, Young told the JTA.
SYNAGOGUE BUILDINGS NOT DAMAGED
Since most of the Jewish community lives in the suburbs on higher ground than the city proper, their homes were not damaged, Young said. But he added that about 35 elderly Jews who live in the city it self, mainly in apartments, have been forced to find temporary shelter with other Jews in the suburbs or in emergency shelters. The two synagogue buildings of Beth Sholom Congregation were not damaged, Young said.
There is still no electricity, water, or phone service for the Johnstown area and it may take a month before things return to normal, he said. Unable to contact the Jewish community by phone because the flood disrupted communications. Young went there in a private plane and after receiving a pass from the National Guard, was driven into the central city by jeep where he met with Jewish leaders.
Most of the damaged businesses were medium and small sized. Some were large enterprises. “That’s a lot of businesses for a little community of 550 Jews,” Young said, adding that: “They will try to rebuild.”
Young is familiar with emergency relief of this nature after having spent several weeks in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. when it was flooded in 1972. The flooding in Wilkes-Barre was “much more severe,” Young said, as about 90 percent of the Jews there lost their homes and businesses, and all the Jewish institutions were damaged. Young said the CJF is still helping in Wilkes-Barre and intends to do what is necessary for the Johnstown Jewish community.
ACTIONS TO AID CITY OUTLINED
A memo issued by the CJF on efforts to help the flood-ravaged city said the following actions were designed:
“The community is contacting the people displaced from their homes in the central city, to determine their needs.
” The community will ascertain the needs of the businessmen. We will help them obtain the full assistance of the Small Business Administration and other government aid, to organize any special help required beyond that.
” The Jewish community is volunteering its assistance to the general community in many ways. For example, the unemployment compensation office is housed in one of the synagogue buildings, and arrangements are being made also to house a day care center that lost its facility. And the Jewish leaders are active in a number of volunteer services.”
In addition, the CJF memo said: “We will continue in closest contact with the community, for every assistance we can provide, directly and through our associated Federations and organizations. Wilkes-Barre itself has offered to make available its experienced personnel.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.