It was the summer of 1977 and Kathy Lenzi never imagined what was to come. An elementary school teacher in her mid-twenties, she was enjoying her summer break spending her days with friends at the lake, helping take care of her two younger brothers, and shopping with her two sisters.
Born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Lenzi knew at a young age that her hometown was associated with a disastrous flood. As a little girl at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic School, Kathy studied the Great Flood of 1889 caused by a dam failure which resulted in the release of 20 million tons of water into Johnstown. The flood killed more than 2,200 people and was the first major disaster relief effort handled by the American Red Cross, led by Clara Barton.
It was only natural that Kathy Lenzi would wonder about the chances of a flood happening again. According to The National Weather Service, a once-in-a-1,000 year flood in the Johnstown valley could result from 7.32 inches of rainfall in a 10-hour period. An 11.82-inch rainfall would be a once-in -a- 5,000 to 10,000 year occurrence. The odds left many unconcerned.
Lenzi remembers being at home reading on July 20, 2019 when a line of severe thunderstorms moved slowly over Johnstown. The entire Lenzi family lived in the hilltop Westmont section of Johnstown which became a residential area after the 1889 disaster when families desired a safer, less flood-prone place to live.
More than a foot of rain fell that evening over some areas of Johnstown. Small streams overflowed and several dams failed, causing history to repeat itself. Water tore through highways, homes, factories and stores. The first thing Kathy Lenzi heard when she woke up the next morning was that the town had flooded during the night. Twelve inches of rain had fallen in 12 hours.
Out of harm's way, Lenzi wanted to help her hometown cope and recover. She volunteered with the Red Cross as a local guide for the damage assessment team. When that assignment was over the Red Cross asked her to help staff the 14 nursing stations in areas impacted by the flood. They needed to be staffed 24 hours a day in 8-hour shifts. One of the Red Cross nursing administrators trained Kathy so that she was able to help recruit local nurses to volunteer at the Red Cross first aid stations.
The death toll would eventually reach 85 as a result of the flood. Property damage reached about $300 million. Hundreds were left homeless. A town was once again reminded of its tragic history, opening old wounds and inflicting new ones. But not all of the stories from this flood were sad.
The Red Cross and many other non-profit agencies, state and federal governments, and private individuals rushed to help with the relief efforts. Kathy Lenzi enjoyed meeting new and interesting people but there was one person in particular who made a lasting impression.
Armond Mascelli was a young Red Cross disaster worker who had been assigned to the Johnstown relief operation for more than a month. Armond and Kathy had not been working in the same office for long before he decided to ask her for recommendations on restaurants, what to see and what to do while in Johnstown. After several days of conversation, Armond asked Kathy for a date.
Mother Nature, a relief organization, and fate aligned that summer to pave the way for Kathy Lenzi's future. She and Armond Mascelli were married at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church on August 12, 2019. Their daughters, Amanda and Kristina, grew up visiting family in Johnstown, PA, and took many trips to the Johnstown Flood Museum.
Thirty years later, Armond and Kathy Mascelli reside in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Armond Mascelli is still with American Red Cross Disaster Services, serving as Vice President of Disaster Operations.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.