CAMP HILL, Pa. — On June 23, 1972, Hurricane Agnes bulled its way through Central Pennsylvania causing widespread destruction through most of the region.
Fifty years later, Harrisburg native Melvin Eichelberger shared his memories from that fateful storm.
“All of a sudden it just kept raining, and raining, and raining, and I said, ‘uh oh. We’re in trouble,'" remembered Eichelberger.
Eichelberger was part of Harrisburg River Rescue at the time Agnes made landfall and was one of many volunteers called into action to save as many lives as possible.
“And at times we couldn’t because there were some who already passed away or dead," said Eichelberger. "And the bodies, we had to get down and get them. It was sad.”
Eichelberger and his team were out in the water at all times of the day trying to find stranded families. He says he went for several days with very little sleep. His team traveled up to Wilkes Barre and down to Steelton, and he even rescued dozens of people near the flooded Governor’s Mansion.
“I’d have to say at least 20 to 25 people," recalled Eichelberger. "Most of them, they were hollering ‘help, help, help.’ And we didn’t just have our boat, we maybe had another rescue boat. But we all came in different ways and we got them out of there.”
After days out on the water, Eichelberger and his team were treated to a special surprise, a visit by then-President Richard Nixon.
“We’re sitting there soaked, mud all over us, and we see these two guys standing there in plain clothes, looking at us. They kept looking at us and I said, ‘who are you looking at? Who are you?’"
The men were part of Nixon's security detail. After explaining the reason for the visit, the 37th President went around to shake the hands of Eichelberger's rescue team.
He says, ‘guys, good job. We appreciate what you’re doing.’ And I said, ‘it’s not just us. It’s Harrisburg River Rescue and all the other organizations," said Eichelberger of his encounter with Nixon.
Eichelberger was finally given relief as the flood waters began to recede, giving him a chance to reflect on the work his crew had done.
“When it was finally over, I started to slack off and it was a big relief for us," said Eichelberger." (The) Harrisburg River Rescue and other group organizations, they did a heck of a job.”
Fifty years later and the memories of Hurricane Agnes remain strong. Eichelberger says he’s proud of the work he and other volunteers did that week.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget, Harrisburg River Rescue will never forget, and this is what it was all about.”