July wet enough to cause trouble

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 11:26 p.m.

July didn't crack the Top 10 record years for rain, but try telling that to people in Bridgeville, Elizabeth, Oakdale, Upper St. Clair or any of the other places inundated by mid-month floods.

The National Weather Service office in Moon measured 6.14 inches of rain from July 1-30, well below the record of 9.51 inches set in 1887 and less than July 2012, the 10th wettest with 7.32 inches.

But the suddenness of the rainfall and preceding days of wet weather set the region up for flash flooding, which left many homeowners and businesses reeling, rebuilding and readying themselves for the inevitable reprise. Countywide flood damage estimates could be released Thursday.

“Everybody understood the Ivan flooding — that was torrential rain that was two days straight,” said Marlene Birnie, whose Huckleberry's Grocery in Oakdale flooded for the second time since the remnants of Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004. “This wasn't understandable. It's like nobody really has any answers.”

After the last round of flooding, Birnie said she would rather retire than seek the low-interest Small Business Association loans available to help people rebuild.

“We're not going to try to get back up. I think (the flooding) is going to happen again,” she said.

Weather Service meteorologist Lee Hendricks said a rainy end to June saturated the ground, so when storms struck in early July, flooding quickly happened. Small amounts of rain fell almost daily, then 2.66 inches dropped in a 24-hour period on July 9-10, when rushing water and overflowing creeks overwhelmed some areas, particularly in the South Hills.

“In the space of 35 days (June and July), we got 8.88 inches of rain. … Any place, on any kind of terrain, that's going to cause problems,” Hendricks said.

Dan Tambellini, owner of Tambellini's Restaurant on Railroad Street in Bridgeville, said issues with his insurance meant he must pay about $130,000 for damage to his basement-level banquet room.

“We're not really even into the heart of hurricane season. There will be more rain, potentially worse than the one we had three weeks ago,” he said.

In Upper St. Clair, three buildings in the Summerfield Commons office complex flooded when water backed up through a drainage system and into the buildings' mechanical rooms, said property manager Regis Fate.

Two buildings were cleaned and reopened; the third could reopen Friday, he said.

Garry Roehling, who lives on Baldwin Street in Bridgeville, was trying to rebuild his house's foundation to improve drainage and was stockpiling sandbags. He said a long-term fix would be dredging McLaughlin Run and clearing the creek of debris.

“It's a freak thing that happens — it's the way Mother Nature has to be,” he said. “It's amazing what 10 minutes of rain like that can do.”

Megan Guza and Matthew Santoni are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Guza at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com. Reach Santoni at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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