Year after West Philly flood, locals still live with the damage

The effects of a burst water main that flooded homes and businesses around 52nd and Wyalusing is still being felt by some residents, one year later.

“To date, I’ve not been reimbursed,” said Deborah Smith, 58, the owner of Smitty’s Millcreek Tavern, which saw water up to the edge of the bar during the flood on June 14, 2015. “We closed for seven months. I can’t even tell how much business I lost because of that.”

Smith was one of many residents in the area who were swamped last year when a 130-year-old, 36-inch diameter pipe burst early on a Sunday. The same area was previously flooded in 2004 and 1994.

Steve Waddy, 69, who lives around the corner from Smith’s Tavern, saw his basement bedroom filled with water during the flood. All of his clothing, furniture, and appliances were ruined, including cartons of stamp and coin collections. His collection of swords were rusted, and three cockatoos he kept as pets died.

“A year later, it’s still a mess. I feel like I’m living in a third world country,” said Waddy, a former Marine who served in Vietnam. “This really tore me apart.”

Waddy produced a city letter from May offering him about $27,000 as compensation. He said he has already paid $20,000 to replace damaged possessions, and estimated full repairs to the home could cost him up $100,000 more.

Smith produced letters from the city showing an offer of about $55,000. Minus $19,000 in liquor taxes for 2015, she said, it would be a $36,000 settlement.

She estimated she sustained $100,000 in losses, saying she paid out of her own pocket to replace the floors, equipment in the bar, and beer and liquor stock in the basement. The tavern reopened in February.

According to Barry Scott, deputy director of finance for risk management, the city has settled 76 claims arising from the flood, and 21 remain open.

“We are still working actively with those folks to help them move on so this is no longer a drag to their lives,” Scott said. But he added the process has been complicated, with some homes seeing change in ownership, and new claims related to the flood being filed as recently as last week.

But both Waddy and Smith, who obtained lawyers to assist with their claims, said the claims process was confusing and difficult. Both described Water Department staff carting out their water logged possessions after the flood, then requesting a full list of the tossed possessions as part of the claims process.

“It was a struggle,” Smith said. “I’m just grateful to still be here.”

More from our Sister Sites