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Pittsburgh swift water rescuers called back on journey north to help flood-ravaged counties

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 12:54 p.m.

A team of specially-trained swift water rescuers left Pittsburgh and headed north to help local efforts in flood-ravaged counties, but then were called back when weather-related concerns elsewhere eased, authorities said.

“They were recalled about three-quarters of the way there”, said Ray Demichiei, Pittsburgh's deputy director of emergency management. “They started to get the situation under control up there.”

Public Safety Director Michael Huss was part of a rescue team of eight that included EMS technicians, police officers and firefighters. They were to meet local officials in Lock Haven, Clinton County, and begin rescue operations in nearby Beech Creek Township.

Demichiei said enough trained personnel remained in Pittsburgh to “protect the home front, so to speak” in case of emergency here.

Heavy storms swept into the region Tuesday evening, and many areas have been battered on and off by thunderstorms and downpours every day since.

Officials reported flooding in Clearfield, Jefferson and Centre counties, among other locations. Friday's storms struck southern counties hard, with flooding reported in Washington County.

American Red Cross volunteers opened shelters in Dubois, Clearfield County, and Sigel, Jefferson County on Thursday. Nearly 200 people stayed overnight, spokeswoman Lauren Ashley said. Red Cross emergency response vehicles will seek flood victims throughout the weekend and provide drinking water and snacks, she said.

John Darnley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon, said a “cyclonal airflow” circling over the Great Lakes is sucking moisture in from the Atlantic Ocean and dropping it on ground that is already saturated.

“It's not a normal pattern for summer,” he said. “It's like a big wheel centered over the Great Lakes. It draws in Atlantic moisture and wraps back around.”

Huss said Pittsburgh emergency responders are specially equipped to handle such situations.

In August 2011, a severe storm unleashed a flash flood on Washington Boulevard in Highland Park that killed four people, prompting Huss to train all public safety employees in shore-based water rescues. In addition, about 200 employees trained or are training on more advanced rescue techniques.

“Because we've added so many more trained personnel and additional boats, we now have some capacity to send help to other areas in their time of need,” Huss said.

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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