Houlahan, Urscheler meet with first responders to reflect on impact of Hurricane Ida

(Front row from right): Fire Chief Brazunas, Rep. Houlahan, and Mayor Urscheler with members of the Phoenixville Fire Department

This week, Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-16) and Mayor Peter Urscheler gathered at the new Phoenixville Fire Station with nearly 50 first responders and community leaders in reflection of Hurricane Ida’s destruction one year ago this week. Wednesday’s visit included remarks from both Houlahan and Urscheler, as well as a local resident who lost everything in the flooding, Fire Chief Eamon Brazunas, Tamela Luce of the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation (PCHF), Karin Williams of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), and Reverend Peter Paprowski of the Holy Ghost Church. Following remarks, attendees gathered for a discussion on the FEMA application process and then concluded with a tour of the new Fire Station.

“I will never forget seeing the destruction of the floodwaters in Phoenixville the morning after Hurricane Ida struck,” said Houlahan. “As we walked through the community, an officer shared with me that it was the toughest day he’s had on the job in his 25 years of service—that tells you something about how our first responders were impacted. I am constantly reminded of how community-oriented we are here in southeastern Pennsylvania, but yesterday especially as we gathered representatives from all levels of government and facets of our community, including nonprofits, schools, health care providers and more. The takeaway was clear: we are only as strong as how well we support one another, and here in our community we could not be more engaged and supportive. As many others shared, I’m so proud to call this place home.”

In the wake of Hurricane Ida, Houlahan urged President Biden to swiftly declare a federal state of emergency so federal resources could be made available to impacted areas.

“It’s amazing when I look back, a year later, on the terrible devastation caused by Hurricane Ida,” said Phoenixville Mayor Peter Urscheler. “But, more so, when I remember all the large and small things that so many people did to help each other to recover and get their lives back. While Hurricane Ida was the most destructive storm we have experienced in our area since Hurricane Agnes in 1972, it was no match for the strength and resilience of the people of this community. We are so blessed that no local lives were lost during those horrifying hours. And we are doubly blessed to know that we live in a community where, when the unthinkable occurs, neighbors quickly spring into action to help neighbors. We are so grateful to all of our first responders, our fire department, police, sanitation workers, office of emergency management, community members, volunteers, and our elected officials. And I am so grateful, that the morning after Hurricane Ida, Representative Houlahan was there, seeing the devastation for herself, so she could take our community needs directly to the federal government so everyone could get their lives back on track as quickly as possible.”

State emergency officials determined that more than 1,700 homes sustained minor damaged, 500 sustained major damage and 70 were destroyed.

“The volunteers and staff of the Phoenixville Fire Department responded to numerous emergencies throughout the Borough of Phoenixville and surrounding communities during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida,” said Phoenixville Fire Chief Eamon Brazunas. “The investment in training and equipping our personnel to properly deal with water rescue incidents paid off as no lives were lost during this devastating storm. Water rescue response preparedness will continue to be a high priority for the Department.”

In the first week of September 2021, historic flooding caused by Hurricane Ida left a path of destruction throughout the region. Local emergency responders rescued 195 people, many from their vehicles or from the roofs of their homes. An estimated 80 cars were under water. After the storm, over 537 residents from Chester and Montgomery Counties were left homeless and living in hotels.

“Hurricane Ida was devastating to our community and surrounding neighbors,” said Police Chief Brian Marshall. “Days prior to the storm approaching Phoenixville, all of our emergency responders hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. I’m extremely proud of our fire department’s efforts and commitment to saving lives and rescuing victims from their homes and vehicles during the storm’s water surge. Our EOC Coordinator, Karin Williams, worked unthinkable hours to help not only Phoenixville but also our neighbors to the east in Upper Providence as well. Swift water rescue is a skill set that police departments do not possess. However, we supported the humanitarian efforts afterwards by delivering food, cleaning products and extra patrol to surrounding areas.

Chief Marshall added: “I would also like to thank Mayor Peter Urscheler for his thinking outside the box and allowing our police department to help in any way possible. Our community and neighbors across the river have developed a strong bond over the past few decades and it certainly showed last year. Building relationships prior to a life-threatening disaster is paramount! Moving forward, partnerships with other communities is the only way to overcome such tragedies of this magnitude. The federal and state government has the resources, but this takes time to coordinate. We had boots on the ground immediately to comfort individuals, some of whom lost all of their worldly possessions. Potable water and food are taken for granted in the 21st century. Last year, basic needs were cherished and truly appreciated by those in need. How do you begin to help thousands in need at the same time?  To quote Walt Disney, ‘The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.’ That is Phoenixville’s mantra and I’m so proud to be a part of this team.”

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