By Dave Bohman
WEST PITTSTON — The death of a 62-year-old woman from Luzerne County during the historic flooding last September remains a mystery, but Action 16 Investigates found documents that may fill in some of the blanks.
Carol Mikols’ sisters said she passed out and died in the basement of a West Pittston home, and they are speaking out, calling the death “preventable.”
Ann Mikols said the home in West Pittston holds only memories. When she and her sister Mary Howells stroll through the now-empty house, they reach the kitchen, remember family celebrations, and think of their older sister Carol Mikols.
“When I would come home from business trips, she would have a full-course meal in the refrigerator waiting for me,” recalls Ann Mikols.
“She was all heart,” said her youngest sister Mary Howells. “I miss her text messages, her phone calls, her cooking and baking when we were having parties.”
The parties stopped last September, when Carol Mikols died in Ann’s house.
That’s when floods destroyed hundreds of homes and uprooted lives. Nature’s fury took away everything some people had.
Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency said 12 people across Pennsylvania died, including Carol Mikols.
“She was really just looking out for my home,” said her sister Ann.
Ann Mikols was in Boston for a wedding in September when the floods hit. Her home sits on high ground, near the Susquehanna River, so after the river crested, Carol Mikols checked on her sister’s home.
At some point, Carol headed down the basement stairs.
Her sisters believe she came to the basement to try to locate a missing cat. When she got to the bottom of the stairs, she was believed to be knee deep in flood water, and likely, very quickly became disoriented and confused.
Soon, she passed out.
“I`m sure she had no awareness when she went down into that basement how dangerous it could be,” said Mary Howells.
A neighbor found Carol Mikols` body the next day, September 9.
According to the coroner`s report, her cause of death was hypoxia: a medical term for a lack of oxygen. The report said tests showed basement oxygen levels at 9%. A level the US department of labor calls dangerous.
Tests conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection confirmed the dangerously low levels of oxygen.
“I had no way of knowing that there was a threat in my home to anybody`s health,” said Ann Mikols.
An engineer’s report, obtained by Newswatch 16 claims the threat began with garbage buried beneath the surface.
The report claims Ann Mikols and her neighbors at the Susquehanna River Shores development lived in homes on “land documented as a municipal landfill. In the late 1950s to early 1960s.”
It also claims the September flooding and rainfall caused groundwater to rise beneath the buried trash.
“It pushed that landfill gas from the existing landfill, because it`s lighter than air, up into basements of the homes, and forced the oxygen out,” said the sisters’ lawyer, Bruce Zero. “She didn`t know what hit her.”
Zero said if Susquehanna River Shores simply built a system to divert landfill gases from the homes, Carol Mikols would never have been in danger.
The developer of Susquehanna River Shores declined our request for an interview.
Ann Mikols moved out, as she continues to struggle with the death of her older sister.
“Many days feel like September 9 all over again,” said Ann. “She`s the first person on my mind in the morning, and the last thing on my mind at night. I just can`t get over, the price that she paid.”
The two sisters are now suing Susquehanna River Shores, seeking at least $100,000 in punitive damages, saying they want justice, and to protect and warn the neighbors.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection said there are now vents in and around all the homes in the development, and they are watched closely.