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Residents near Allegheny River in Armstrong on alert for flooding

| Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, 2:08 p.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Lock No.8 near Mossgrove is surounded by ice, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Rising temperatures have residents living along the Allegheny River readying for possible floods as the ice starts thawing.

It's been more than a month since ice chunks in Armstrong County buckled and pushed out over the banks of the Allegheny River in Madison Township, blocking road access and flooding homes with icy water before refreezing in place.

Now, as mild temperatures move across the region, those living near the water's edge have been anxiously watching the river and waiting to see what Mother Nature has in store for the next thaw.

“We're expecting the worst,” said John Drayer of Rimer.

He lives along Rimerton Road, about a quarter mile from Lock and Dam 9, and about 60 feet from the river.

Drayer said he thinks it's likely that rain and higher air temperatures will cause a repeat of last month's icy flood and is planning to move some of his belongings out of his home.

The National Weather Service is forecasting between one-half and three-quarters of an inch of rain Thursday through Friday, Meteorologist Lee Hendricks said.

Temperatures will reach the low 50s Thursday and remain in the 40s Thursday night. Friday will have highs in the lower 40s before cold air pushes back in, taking the low to the upper 20s, with further cooling through the weekend into early next week.

Below freezing night temperatures will stabilize any melting during the day, Hendricks said. While there will be some runoff, he does not expect it to be extreme.

The Allegheny River and its major tributaries to the north are almost completely covered by ice that is between 6 and 14 inches thick. There are a couple of minor ice jams on the Allegheny River downstream from West Hickory and below Parker, but they are stable with water moving underneath, Hendricks said. But ice jams are always a concern when the thaw comes after a harsh winter.

“It's something we're going to monitor closely,” he said.

Rimer residents remain hopeful that flooding might be kept in check by the towering walls of ice left over from last month's jam.

Theresa and Glenn Dukovich live above Rimerton Road, close to the Rails to Trails emergency access road.

“Right now the river is still and solid. It's not moving,” Theresa said Wednesday. “We're hoping the ice will melt – but not too fast. When flooding happens, it can happen in minutes.”

Last month's ice jam temporarily prevented driving in portions of Rimer. Since then, Madison Township workers have kept the trail clear of snow for residents to drive on and Rimerton Road reopened once PennDOT cleared a corridor through the ice.

“There's still a wall of ice on either side of the road,” Glenn said. “It's like driving through a tunnel.”

He estimated the ice walls are about 12 feet tall. “But that might be a good thing. It might hold the water back,” he said.

But he admitted it's also possible that rising water and breaking ice along the river could push the walls over and wreak havoc to riverfront properties.

“We'll find out in the next couple of days,” he said.

Armstrong County Commissioners Chairman David Battaglia said officials are keeping a close watch on the river levels in Madison.

“The most important thing is keeping the emergency access road open,” Battaglia said. “The worst case scenario is that we'll have to ask the governor to order an evacuation.”

Downriver, Dennis Mantini of Manorville is also watching the weather ... and the ice. Mantini, who is a recreational boater, said he lost two docks in past winters.

“The ice took them,” he said.

According to Hendricks, ice jams on smaller streams and creeks could cause flooding in areas with poor drainage, and those who live near them should keep alert.

Mantini also said this week's weather has the potential to cause streams to flood and thinks that could be more of an issue than flooding from the Allegheny River.

“But everything depends on the amount of rain that comes. If it rains, the river is coming up,” Mantini said. “And there's nothing you can do to prevent it.”

However, he is less concerned about his home along Water Street being damaged than he is about flooding at his business in Creighton — which has gotten several feet of water in the basement during past floods.

“The river is very dynamic. I've seen it go up nine feet in one day,” he said. “If you don't like it, you buy a house on a hill. But even then – you're not immune to flooding. It's all in God's hands.”

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com. Trib Total Media staff writer Brian Rittmeyer contributed to this report.

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