CHADDS FORD — Almost one year after the devastating floodwaters from Hurricane Ida, The Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art marked a milestone recovery effort on Tuesday.
“People came together for the entire region,” said state Rep. Craig Williams, R-160, of Upper Chichester. “We were on the ground for days.”
The estimated damages for the emergency phase of flood recovery from Ida near $7 million. This does not include additional mitigation work still to come, such as flood hardening and elevating campus buildings, which will be substantial additional expenses for the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art.
Jeffrey Thomas is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. During his remarks at Tuesday’s event, Thomas said he was humbled to be part of the recovery efforts from the disaster at the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art.
“We exist to serve the community,” said Virginia Logan, chief executive officer of the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art.
“After the historic floodwaters from Ida overtook and devastated the Brandywine’s 15-acre Chadds Ford campus on September 1, it was hard to imagine that almost a year later we’d be in the position we are in now, having substantially completed our initial emergency flood recovery phase,” Logan said.
“While there is still an incredible amount of restoration and mitigation work ahead, we’ve finished the most critical steps for the Museum to safely remain open to the public. None of this would have been possible without the immense support of our community who helped us achieve this milestone.”
Of Tuesday’s event, Logan said, “It was important for us to take the time to thank all those who helped us get back on our feet and to celebrate together all the accomplishments we’ve made to date.”
Among so many others, Logan said the Brandywine is especially grateful for the help received from federal, state and county elected officials — including U.S. Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, state Rep. Craig Williams and state Sen. John Kane.
These lawmakers, she said, “helped us secure the crucial public assistance grant from FEMA and PEMA, as well as support from Delaware County Emergency Services; Delaware County Planning Commission; our Chadds Ford Township manager, staff and supervisors; and Brandywine’s staff, trustees, members, volunteers and friends.”
Logan is also the executive director of The Frolic Weymouth.
“During such a challenging and daunting time in our organization’s history, it was tremendously heartening to have our broader community rally in support of our recovery efforts in such a significant way,” Logan said.
“In fact, just two weeks after the flood, more than 150 volunteers donated their time and services during a campus-wide cleanup event to help remove trash and large debris from our trails and grounds,” Logan said. “Their support was our driving motivation to get the Museum reopened as quickly as possible.”
“I was happy to visit Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art to celebrate its incredible recovery from flood damage suffered during last summer’s Hurricane Ida,” said U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th of Swarthmore. “The drive and commitment of the Brandywine team to restore and reopen this treasure is a gift to all of us who cherish its unique intersection of art and nature.”
“Experiencing the region’s largest flood in recorded history has taught us all so many lessons, especially for an organization like ours in such close proximity to a river,” said Wade Abnett, director of facilities and security for the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art on Wednesday.
“The key lesson was that a flood of this scale will change everything about your previously established flood preparations and procedures,” he said. “Things that you previously thought were not even possible will happen in an event like this and you need to be able to react and make decisions so quickly, without any time for second guessing.”
Abnett added, “We also all have a new respect for how much damage floodwaters can do. Additionally, our region needs to have more accurate flood prediction tools developed to provide more adequate flood preparation warning time.”
Rain from Ida fell in Pennsylvania on September 1. The heavy rainfall brought floodwaters. By midnight, many people across the region were being evacuated from their homes.
“The window on the Museum’s ground floor broke between 2-3 a.m. on September 2, 2021,” Abnett recalled. “A tree was uprooted along the adjacent riverbank and hit the window at a perfect location and force to shatter the glass.”
Further, “While we’ve been through a lot of flooding events in the past, the historic rainfall experienced during Ida led to a flood of 21.04 feet — shattering the previous flooding record by almost five feet. Even with our well-honed emergency flood procedures and our excellent Flood Response Team, who were on site during the duration of the storm for about 30-35 hours straight, nothing could have prepared our team for a flood of this size and magnitude. The flood waters were up to the Museum’s riverside door around midnight and kept climbing at an extraordinary rate,” he said.
“Fortunately, no employees were injured, and our collection of art remained safe and unharmed during the flood,” Abnett noted.
Logan said that the heavy rainfall Ida brought to Coatesville played a party in the historic floodwaters that surged into the lower level of the Brandywine River Museum of Art and across the Conservancy’s campus, which spans both Chester and Delaware counties.
In some places, more than 10 inches of rain fell along the Delaware River during Ida.
In Coatesville, more than 100 families became displaced from their homes as rainfall from Ida caused historic floodwaters to reach both residential and commercial buildings in the city.
“Hurricane Ida’s impacts along the Gulf Coast and the Northeast are still accumulating and might surpass Hurricane Sandy in terms of total costs, inflation-adjusted to present-day dollars,” said Adam Smith, an applied climatologist with NOAA.
“The top five most costly disasters to strike the U.S. since Jan. 1, 2000 are all from hurricanes,” Smith said. These include Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Hurricane Maria in 2017, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Ida in 2021.
The National Centers for Environmental Information, of NOAA, has recorded more than 300 separate U.S. billion-dollar disaster events from 1980 to 2021.
“In Congress, I remain committed to doing all I can to deliver federal funding to help PA-05 families, small businesses, and cultural institutions recover and rebuild in the wake of natural disasters,” Scanlon said on Wednesday.
“Last year, I proudly voted to pass nearly $30 billion to respond to natural disasters, including Hurricane Ida,” the congresswoman said. “I fought hard to pass the bipartisan infrastructure law, which designated federal funds to support flood mitigation efforts, including the Brandywine Conservancy’s efforts to avert future flooding.”
“This event celebrated the milestone of the Brandywine’s completion of its initial emergency phase of flood recovery, following the devastating flood caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida on September 1, 2021,” said Andrew Stewart, director of marketing amd communications at the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art.
“Speakers shared stories about the historic flooding event and illustrated how the community, as well as local, regional, state and federal government and related agencies, pulled together to help the Brandywine reopen in time for the 2021 holiday season, as well as recently finish its initial emergency phase of recovery,” Stewart said.
“Initial estimates of damage suggested that the Museum would need to be closed for about 9-12 months for restoration work,” said Logan.
“Against those odds, I pushed our team to focus on what was possible for us to reopen much sooner, which included implementing temporary solutions to get the Museum operational and safe for public visitation in time for the holiday season,” Logan said.
“The project managers, construction manager and engineers worked seamlessly with Br
Museum trustee Thorpe Moeckel gets ready to cut the ribbon at the new chiller room.
andywine staff to identify the core tasks necessary to safely reopen,” she said. “They were remarkable in their teamwork with staff, identifying the options and possibilities and racing against the clock to meet our goal. We developed an ambitious plan, worked around the clock for months, and had some lucky breaks in sourcing materials needed to achieve the early opening against all the odds.”
Logan continued, “There is still so much to do, that it would be easy to just continue head-down towards completing the remaining projects. However, we felt that the help and support we received was so extraordinary, and we wanted to take a moment to celebrate how far we have come, share some of our future plans, and get back to the important work of serving our communities through the inspiration of great art, engaging programs and the beauty and importance of our protected natural resources.”
The Brandywine Conservancy has facilitated the permanent preservation of over 69,200 acres of land and holds more than 500 conservation and agricultural easements.