(Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden toured flooded Duryea, Pennsylvania, on Friday, hugging teary residents, urging them to rebuild homes destroyed by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee and promising federal relief.
The hardscrabble town less than 10 miles from Biden’s childhood home in Scranton was one of many swamped by flood waters when the Susquehanna River, swollen by the storm, overflowed its banks earlier this month.
“Oh, man, I‘m sorry,” Biden said, putting his arm around Jimmy Pliska, 47, as they surveyed his ruined home.
“I can’t come back,” Pliska said, recalling 5 feet of water swamping his ground floor and lapping at a picture of his grandparents, the previous owners of the home that has been in his family since 1914.
“Yeah, you can come back.... I‘m telling you, you could come back,” Biden said as Pliska, an auto mechanic, choked up and shook his head. “There’s a lot of help...So hang on. This is no time to give up.”
President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in Pennsylvania, making federal funding available to individuals who suffered hardships as a result of the storm.
Aid includes grants for home repairs and low-cost loans to help home and business owners recover from the disaster.
Leaving Pliska’s home, Biden crossed the street to comfort the elderly Yachna sisters Johanna, 75, and Gertrude, 79, on the front porch of their devastated home, placing his hands on Gertrude’s shoulders.
Spotting albums of baseball cards from chewing gum packs heaped in a pile of destroyed belongings, Biden urged the sisters to rescue them and sell them on eBay.
“These are worth more money than you can possibly imagine,” Biden said, convincing the women to pull the cards from the trash.
He also offered reassurance to Barbara Miller, 35, who listened with tears streaming down her face to his promise that federal help was on the way. Miller, a customer service representative at a local bank, said the first floor of her home was submerged in 4 feet of water, destroying brand new furniture and leaving behind spilled heating oil.
“Don’t worry, help is coming,” Miller said Biden told her as he placed his hands on her shoulders.
“But we need the help now... People are facing mold growing,” she told reporters. “I‘m glad that he’s here, I just hope that we do see what we need.”
Writing by Barbara Goldberg. Editing by Peter Bohan