Westmoreland emergency crews get a break as floodwaters recede

| Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Halloween was a treat for local firefighters, who had worked feverishly before, during and after heavy rains, snow and high winds from Hurricane Sandy hit Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“They're taking their naps today,” Dan Stevens, spokesman for Westmoreland County Emergency Management, said Wednesday of firefighters who rescued stranded residents and motorists from creeks and streams swelled by rain from the storm that devastated the East Coast.

In Latrobe, where firefighters worked for 26 straight hours responding to storm-related incidents, fire Chief John Brasile said emergency calls had stopped Wednesday.

“Everything's sort of slowed down,” Brasile said. “The Loyalhanna's going down, and that's helping us.”

The raging Loyalhanna Creek flooded Avenue A in Latrobe, and three men there had to be taken from their home by boat Tuesday.

“They were in no danger, but the water got so high,” Brasile said. “(We) took our boat, and we got them off the porch.”

The men took shelter in the Ligonier Valley YMCA.

By Wednesday, floodwaters had receded, and residents temporarily forced from their homes were beginning to assess the damage and to clean up.

Displaced for two nights by the storm, Christian Morgan of Ligonier Township said he couldn't wait to get back to his Offbridge Road home Wednesday.

Morgan and his parents, along with his sister and her family, who live next door, spent Monday night at the Waterford Volunteer Fire Department after wading through the overflowing Loyalhanna to escape. Thanks to the Red Cross, they spent Tuesday night at a Latrobe hotel.

The families were allowed into their homes on Wednesday and found that the Red Cross had dropped off rakes, brooms and shovels.

“There's debris all over the yard,” Morgan said.

“(On) the inside of both houses, not one drop of water got in,” Morgan said. “Thank God for that.”

But Morgan's sister, Maria Bartholomew, lost everything stored under the back deck of her home, and a neighbor's car filled with water, Morgan said.

Officials at the Sewickley Township Public Library in Herminie spent Wednesday assessing water damage caused by the storm.

Mandy Luchs, library director, said water seeped through the walls of the building, constructed in the 1930s.

A disaster restoration crew contracted by the township, which owns the building, helped move most of the book cases away from the walls and lifted about half of the carpet tiles on the floor, she said.

“We're basically shut down at this point for several days,” Luchs said. They hope to reopen by Monday.

A damage estimate is still being determined by the township and a contractor, she said.

Most roads in Westmoreland County that had closed because of flooding were reopened by Wednesday afternoon.

“We were very fortunate,” Stevens said. “Everybody was very lucky and everybody, for the most part, heeded the warnings and stayed at home.”

Members of the Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department's swift-water rescue team were on their way home from Harrisburg Wednesday morning. They had expected to help with rescues in central and eastern Pennsylvania, but their services weren't needed.

“We're just happy that Pennsylvania didn't suffer that type of hit,” said Kim Ross Houser, the department's deputy chief.

Houser thought his teams might be needed locally as the heavy snowfall in West Virginia and the Laurel Highlands melts and runoff makes its way into streams and rivers.

Joe Palko, National Weather Service hydrologist in Pittsburgh, said the 14-day forecast should allow the landscape to gradually absorb the runoff. “We're not expecting any rapid warm-ups or rapid melts,” he said.

During the storm, higher-elevation snow in places such as Somerset County helped stave off flooding of the region's major rivers by reducing runoff, Palko said.

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

Staff writers Rossilynne Skena and Stacey Federoff contributed to this story.

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