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Pittsburgh communities fear flooding from megastorm

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Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, 8:46 p.m.

Severe rain and tropical storms always fray nerves in low-lying Millvale.

“If we flood again, I'm out of here,” said Jack Ceney, owner of Jack's Video and Ceney Electronics, both on Grant Avenue, the latter store having been started by his father in 1968.

As Hurricane Sandy closes in on the East Coast, residents of flood-prone towns in Western Pennsylvania fear a repeat of Hurricane Ivan.

“I lost my house. I couldn't pay my bills. It was either keep the house or keep the business. All you can do at times like this is hope for the best,” Ceney said Saturday in his video store.

Both Ceney's stores were destroyed and hundreds of Millvale homes and businesses damaged when Ivan dumped more than 7 inches of rain in the Pittsburgh region on Sept. 17, 2004.

The National Weather Service does not expect Sandy to bring anything that drastic to this region.

“The biggest concern would be snow in the ridges of Somerset and Fayette counties. The worst wind will probably be on Monday night,” said Rihaan Gangat, a weather service meteorologist.

On Monday night, winds are expected to gust up to 50 miles per hour. From Monday through Wednesday 3 to 4.5 inches of rain are likely to fall across the area.

“Based on how affected we are by the storm, we could move into a 24/7 mode of operation with the emergency operations center staffed and increased staffing at the 911 center,” said Alvin Henderson Jr., chief of Allegheny County emergency services.

Authorities are asking people to have three days of supplies at home — including batteries, water and food.

“The western third of the state might be spared the worst of the storm.

“We expect this to be a high wind-damaging event that could cause widespread power outages, though,” said Ruth Miller, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

In Western Pennsylvania, people took steps to prepare.

“Saturday is busy here. This Saturday is busier than most,” said Craig Thomas, an office clerk at Kuhn's supermarket on Banksville Road.

In Carnegie, another community severely damaged by Ivan, public works crews are removing leaves and branches from catch basins.

“It is hard to keep up with the leaves at this time of year. I am concerned about high winds knocking trees down, blocking roads and downing power lines, said Jeffrey Harbin, Carnegie's manager and police chief.

In Greensburg, fire Chief Ed Hutchinson said he's been in contact with officials in Harrisburg and has several special teams on standby.

The department is ready to send four boats and four swift-water rescue teams wherever they are needed. Nine of the 20 swiftwater-trained rescuers statewide are part of the Greensburg department, he said.

The department's Helicopter Advanced Rescue Team, or HART, is also on standby to rescue people who may become stranded on roofs, he said.

“We're as ready as we can be. The gear's ready; the boats are ready,” said Hutchinson. “We'll be at the will of Harrisburg.”

Staff writer Kari Andren contributed to this report. Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or

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