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At 125th anniversary of their disaster, Johnstowners rally for victims of Brcko flood

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Johnstowners can certainly empathize with residents of their sister city, Brcko, right now.

The town of 40,000 citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with nearby communities, recently suffered flooding and landslides caused by historic rains.

Lives were upended. Property was damaged. Land mines, left behind from a vicious civil war, were unearthed. The future is uncertain. Johnstown experienced similar calamitous floods in 1977, 1936, and, most devastatingly, 125 years ago this week, on May 31, 1889, when the South Fork Dam broke, sending a wave of water into the city that killed 2,209 people.

Now, a former Johnstown city councilman and a member of the Johnstown Police Department are hoping local residents will help their sister city by making tax-deductible financial donations to the Brcko, Bosnia-Herzegovina Relief Fund.

“Brcko has now suffered their worst flood in their history with the entire town pretty much evacuated,” said Brian Subich, who visited Brcko during his time on council.

“Johnstowners know exactly what that’s like. I actually went through the 1977 Flood. I lived on Washington Street at the time. My parents and I were evacuated in a military vehicle from over here on Washington Street, so I personally know what that’s like as well. Johnstown residents, as a whole, know what that’s like. We also appreciate how people helped us and helped our city. To me, being sister cities, it just felt like a good idea for us to reach out to them in their time of need.”

Subich and Johnstown police Sgt. Scott Haymaker established the fund through the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies.

Several community leaders, including City Manager Kristen Denne, Councilman Pete Vizza, Cambria County Commissioner Tom Chernisky, former Mayor Don Zucco and state Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, have offered their support.

“I had the unfortunate opportunity to experience the 1977 Flood,” said Mayor Frank Janakovic during a press conference outside City Hall on Wednesday. “Actually, I saw the flood from the Minersville bridge about 4 a.m. of the morning of the ’77 Flood. All I can say is, at that time, we appreciated all the support that we could get in the city whether that was financial, direct assistance, etc., so I ask the citizens of Johnstown to help. We’ve experienced floods in our lifetime, and I ask our citizens who experienced that to help those in need.”

Brcko, which became Johnstown’s sister city thanks to the effort of former U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, is still recovering from the Bosnian War that raged from 1992-95.

Haymaker served militarily for 18 months in the Balkan nation with stints in 2002-2003 and 2012-2013.

“It’s a very economically depressed country,” said Haymaker, a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard and former command sergeant major at NATO Headquarters Sarajevo, located in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital. “But I can tell you, in comparison from 2003 to now, they’ve made great strides in infrastructure, economically and culturally, after their civil war. This is just going to set them back decades.”

Anybody interested in making donations can go to cfalleghenies.org/give/donate-now, click on the “Network for Good” link and then type “Brcko” or “Bosnia” into the designation line.

Donations will be accepted through the end of June.
 

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