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Rock slide closes Route 906 as storm rips through Valley

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 12:27 a.m.
PennDOT Supervisor Don Redman from Fayette County District Office 12-0 watches as a loader clears a rock slide on State Route 906, between Washington Township and Fayette City. Redman said only a small amount of debris fell onto the roadway, large boulders on top of the hill may be unstable. Jim Ference | The Valley Independent

Spring-like weather brought strong storms to the Mon Valley on Wednesday, causing downed trees, power outages and a rockslide.

The temperature reached 66 degrees, tying the Pittsburgh region's record high for Jan. 30 set in 1916 and 1947, according to the National Weather Service in Moon Township.

The line of storms passed through Wednesday morning with wind gusts of up to 67 mph. The heaviest came at 10:45 a.m. at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe. Other gusts peaked at 49 mph in Washington and Allegheny counties, according to the National Weather Service.

The combination of freezing temperatures last week and a quick snow thaw helped cause the rockslide on state Route 906 in Washington Township.

State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Valerie Petersen said emergency personnel closed the road between the Fayette Road-West Side Street intersection and State Street in Belle Vernon.

That area between Belle Vernon and Fayette City has been a trouble spot for rock and mudslides over the years.

“It's the time of year in the river valleys where areas like this are at risk because of the freeze and thawing,” Petersen said.

She said the road will remain closed until crews determine the hillside is stable and debris can be cleared.

Don Redman, a PennDOT supervisor assigned to district office 12-0 in Uniontown, said only a small amount of debris fell onto the roadway. He said the main concern is large boulders on top of the hill that appear to be unstable.

Petersen said it's unclear how long the road will be closed. In the meantime, motorists should use Route 201 and Interstate 70 to detour around the slide.

Despite a flood watch Wednesday, the rivers crested locally below flood stage. Locks and Dam 4 in North Charleroi is expected to crest at 24.7 feet at 7 p.m. Thursday. Flood stage is 28 feet.

Locks and Dam 3 in Elizabeth is expected to crest at 17.9 feet at 7 p.m. Thursday. Flood stage is 20 feet.

The Youghiogheny River at Sutersville was expected to crest at 11.96 feet at 1 a.m. Thursday. Flood stage there is 14.9 feet.

Elsewhere in the region, reports of snapped tree limbs and wires kept emergency personnel busy throughout the day.

Duquesne Light reported no significant outages, although West Penn Power initially reported about 3,200 customers without electricity in Washington County, 1,800 in Allegheny County and 3,300 in Westmoreland County.

By 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, those numbers had dropped to about 600 in Washington, 800 in Westmoreland and 200 in Allegheny. The majority of the affected areas in Washington County were in the Washington, Pa., area, including the Washington County Courthouse Square office building.

The severe thunderstorm watch was originally expected to last until 4 p.m. Wednesday, but the line of storms moved through the area faster than expected, and the watch was lifted early, about noon.

Scattered showers were expected to turn to snow overnight as temperatures dropped toward an expected low of 29 degrees Thursday morning. Between ¾ and 1½ inches of precipitation were expected before Thursday morning, including about a half-inch of snow.

Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or at