Rain washes out road, blamed in death of Perryopolis man in Perry Township

| Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, 12:30 p.m.

A Fayette County man died on Saturday when a heavy downpour that caused flooding washed out a section of road he was traveling on, state police at Belle Vernon said.

Thomas Whipkey, 37, of Perryopolis was killed about 1 a.m. after the torrential rain carved a culvert on Falbo Road in Perry Township, police said.

Whipkey did not realize the road was no longer there as he traveled south in the deluge and darkness, police said.

He suffered a head injury, authorities said.

The early morning storm dumped upward of 3 inches of rain in some areas in a short period and flooded more than 50 basements in Fayette and Westmoreland counties, according to emergency officials and Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh.

Fire crews were busy pumping out basements.

Flooding was especially prevalent in the Jacobs Creek and Smithton sections of Westmoreland County, emergency officials said. A few roads were temporarily closed.

“It's a mess,” Larry Nemec, Turkeytown fire chief, said of homes in Jacobs Creek.

“It dumped a lot of water at one time, and the creek couldn't handle it. It flooded the lower end of Jacobs Creek,” he said.

Firefighters responded to at least 40 calls on Saturday morning, all for flooded basements, Nemec said. He said he saw no water in the upper floors of homes.

Emergency accommodations were set up at the Turkeytown fire station. Three or families stayed there until later in the morning, Nemec said.

Another family was put up in a hotel after the American Red Cross was called.

Light rain was falling when Shannon Brame of Dunbar went to bed about midnight.

Two hours later, she heard a neighbor pounding on her Church Street door. The rainfall — and her life — had changed.

“It was a river,” Brame said. “It looked like our house was in the middle of a river. We couldn't leave.”

A Fayette County emergency dispatcher reported more than 30 basements in Dunbar and Dunbar Township were being pumped out by firefighters from five companies because Dunbar Creek overflowed its banks.

The county's swift-water rescue team was on standby but did not have to go out on calls, the 911 dispatcher said.

“People lost dryers, washers, furnaces, hot water tanks,” said Rob Grover, Dunbar road supervisor. “There's a lot of mud in basements. It's a bad situation.”

He said borough, fire, PennDOT and other crews were busy cleaning streets. Main Street in the borough was shut down for a while because of debris, Grover said.

“There's been so many good people pitching in,” he added.

Brame's basement was among those flooded.

“We got 3 feet of water in our basement,” she said. “Hopefully our furnace and washer and dryer are good.”

“We have a backhoe in front of my house shoveling ... up mud and debris,” she said.

Water surrounded her car, Brame said, and got inside a neighbor's vehicle.

Another neighbor had water come into her kitchen and living room, she said.

Flooding this time was worse than what happened 13 months ago, she said.

No other flooding has occurred during her seven years in her home.

Brame's grandson, Aden, 5, slept through the storm and awoke about 10 a.m. to discover what had happened.

“He was very shocked, definitely,” Brame said.

She, like others struck by the downpour, hoped no more rain would come anytime soon.

“Hopefully, the water will stay down so we can clean up the mess,” Brame said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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