Heavy rain pounds path through Westmoreland, floods roads, homes
By Stacey Federoff, Richard Gazarik and Joe Napsha
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 6:18 p.m.
Heavy rain that repeatedly pounded portions of six counties as it moved southeast from Crawford to Fayette on Wednesday trapped drivers in vehicles, flooded basements and yards, and pushed asphalt and rocks onto roadways.
St. Vincent Lake spilled onto Monastery Run Road near St. Vincent College, trapping several drivers who tried to pass.
“People everywhere here are covered in water,” said Capt. Jim Jellison of the Lloydsville Volunteer Fire Department, who helped firefighters push one woman's car from the water after it stalled.
The runoff formed small ponds on St. Vincent's athletic fields, said spokesman Don Orlando.
As much as 2½ inches of rain fell from New Alexandria through Latrobe and Donegal, according to the National Weather Service in Moon.
Between 1½ and 2½ inches fell across eastern Westmoreland County, meteorologist Mike Fries said. Within two hours, more than 2 inches of rain fell in Luxor, Hempfield Township, he said. Irwin recorded 1¼ inches.
Meteorologists charted the storm's path southeast from Crawford County through Venango, Butler, Armstrong, Westmoreland and Fayette counties.
West Penn Power reported some outages, including at least 100 in both Export and Unity and scattered locations in Latrobe, Southwest Greensburg and Adamsburg.
Michelle Gallagher stood outside her mobile home off Tunnelton Road that afternoon, fearing the worst as she watched her husband in water over his knees, the rising Conemaugh River behind him and a swollen creek engulfing him as it rushed over their wooded property into the river.
“I was scared. I thought he was gone. I called 911, and I thought that was it,” she said.
She made a second call for help from the closest source — friends who were at the Tunnelton Inn, just across the river. Friend Kevin Nagg drove his truck toward Brian Gallagher, who waved him off. Gallagher, who was wearing a life jacket, had hitched himself to a riverfront post.
Water surrounded the Gallagher home after a pipe underneath Tunnelton Road— it usually carries just a trickle of water — was clogged by logs and debris carried by the raging water.
“It came into over our driveway all of a sudden,” Michelle Gallagher said.
“It was at the back door,” her husband said.
Michelle Gallagher said the force of the water separated the two. She went to save her dog and some belongings in the home. Brian Gallagher, who runs a canoe and kayak business, headed for the pavilion where the couple keep vehicles and boats.
The water swept giant logs onto their property, moved a camper about 50 feet, ripped away the skirting of their mobile home and carried off a few kayaks.
“I watched a Jet Ski go by,” Brian Gallagher said.
Around midafternoon, homeowners along Raymond Avenue on the border of Latrobe and Derry Township watched water rise from the gully of a storm drain pipe and into the street.
“You could see it was about ready to overflow,” said Connie Rupert. “I called (911) three times. … I said, ‘Pretty soon, we're going to need boats.' ”
Neighbor Toni Lang was upstairs when she heard a boom she thought was thunder.
“My screen door is completely mangled, and it pushed the (basement) door open,” Lang said. “I seriously thought it was going to end up upstairs, because it wasn't slowing down.
“It was a river; my whole house was surrounded by water,” she said.
Rupert and her husband, Rick, had about a foot of water in their basement; Lang had 5 feet.
Bradenville fire Chief Mark Piantine said Route 982, Slag Road, Uschak Road and a portion of Route 981 were flooded. The shoulder on Uschak Road washed out, causing rocks to pile up 3 feet tall in the middle of the street, he said.
The fire department had 25 to 30 calls at that time.
“They just keep coming, one after another after another,” Piantine said.
The storm knocked out power to traffic lights at Route 30 East and Beatty County Road in Unity, causing delays. Traffic lights at Beatty County and Lewis roads along Route 30 later ran on generators.
Lloydsville residents assessed the damage to their homes and yards as Unity Run overflowed. Firefighters from communities across the county arrived to pump basements, where the water rose nearly to the ceilings.
“Our whole area was pounded,” said Lt. David Vogle of the Lloydsville Volunteer Fire Department.
Carol Striker said Unity Run, normally a narrow stream, overflowed to form a small lake in her backyard.
“This is my fifth time going through this,” Striker said. “I've replaced water heaters, furnaces, washers, dryers, and they're all underwater again.”
Priscilla Hall vowed, “I'll never live near another creek. My whole basement is gone. This is really bad.”
Patty Degrandis called it the worst flooding she has seen in Lloydsville.
“I have been through three floods,” she said. “The last one was in '06. There was 5 feet of water in my basement. Now there's more than that.”
Striker said Unity Run cuts through the township and the city of Latrobe, but neither municipality will remove debris from the creek.
“I've called the supervisors. I've called the (state Department of Environmental Protection). Nobody will take responsibility for this creek,” she said.
Don Boyer, 61, moved furniture on Sunday into his new Ligonier Township summer home along Four Mile Run, which spilled its banks just days later.
Boyer and his 88-year-old father, Harry Boyer, had to be rescued from the Ross Road home Wednesday evening.
Crews from Greensburg Fire Department Swiftwater Rescue Team helped the Boyers to safety by using a boat, then a front-loader machine closer to the creek's side.
Johnstown natives, the Boyers now live in North Carolina, but Don Boyer plans to make the Ligonier Township home his permanent residence. For now, they'll both stay at Darlington Fire Hall, unsure when floodwaters will recede and enable them to go back into the home.
They watched the creek that morning as it began to rise but then stabilized. Later water surrounded the home and blocked access to the driveway.
“By the time we realized it, Don Boyer said, “the water was too high to drive out.”
Derry Township fire Chief Mark Piantine said his department answered 42 calls that afternoon, including a fire caused by a lightning strike on a shed.
He said the rain flooded a number of basements in homes.
“We had 8 feet of water in some basements,” Piantine said. “In seven houses on Raymond Avenue, we had water up to the rafters. I've seen water running like I've never seen it before.”
He said his department responded to one call of people trapped in their home, but by the time firefighters arrived, the water had receded.
Sections of Route 981 had to be closed because of flooding, he said.
Piantine said he had to call for help from departments as far away as Hempfield and White Valley.
Blairsville Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Terry Shepherd said more than 50 calls reporting flooded basements and roadways had come in by early afternoon.
“There were a lot of roadways flooded, but they receded as fast as they came up. ... No injuries, a lot of property damage.”
Staff writers Greg Reinbold and Rossilynne Skena contributed to this report.
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