Flooding smacks Fayette County

| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

An elderly woman had to be rescued from her home and a mobile home was lifted off its foundation when floodwaters swept through parts of Fayette County overnight Tuesday.

The county and four communities — Dunbar and South Connellsville boroughs and Dunbar and North Union townships — declared states of emergency in the wake of flooding some residents described as the most damaging in decades.

“In all the years I've been here, this is the worst I've ever seen,” said Pete Casini, the South Connellsville mayor who started as a policeman there in 1976. “It looked like a river coming down McCormick Avenue.”

Casini said at least a dozen homes were flooded when water cascaded off Chestnut Ridge near the old Casparis mine, down McCormick, beginning at midnight Tuesday. Homes on McCormick and Wine Street were among those inundated.

“Many homes had water in their basements, and they lost everything,” Casini said. “I had one lady tell me she lost $25,000 worth of stuff.”

In North Union, firefighters rescued 87-year-old Nettie Raymond from her home at 212 Yauger Hollow Road when rising waters from Cove Run filled her basement, said her daughter, Cathy Vansickle. She stays with her mother at night because she is on oxygen.

“The (North Union) fire department had to get us out,” said Vansickle.

Vansickle said the creek began to rise around 11 p.m., and floodwaters were at her mother's porch when firefighters drove through high water to ferry them to safety.

Yauger Hollow Road resident Tom Barnhart said the street “looked like rapids.” His home atop a hillside was not damaged.

North Union Supervisor Tom Kumor estimated damage to township roads at $1 million.

Yauger Hollow Road has reopened, he said, but cleanup continues. The township must consider a solution to prevent flooding along Cove Run, he said. That could include dredging the stream and stabilizing its banks. “It's going to be a lot of time and a lot of money,” Kumor said.

Kumor said he worries that large trees along Cove Run might topple because the ground is saturated.

In Dunbar Township, Nancy and Dave Phillips of Church Hill Road noticed Gist Run rising rapidly at 11:30 p.m. Their home and a double-wide mobile home owned by their daughter and son-in-law, Kelli and Jim Kubicek, sit next to the creek.

The fast-moving water carried large trees down the creek, where some became lodged under two bridges, they said. When the stream ran over its banks, it twisted the mobile home and moved it 6 feet off its foundation, said Nancy Phillips.

Phillips said a tenant was moving into the mobile home, but left just before it ripped away.

She said the water swept a metal storage shed 50 feet across their yard, tore away a vinyl picket fence, and ripped stones from a rock wall along the riverbank. It left mud and sand in their basement, garage and in-ground pool.

Next door, Stanley Klink, 61, surveyed the damage to his business, Dunbar Auto Repair Inc. He said three-quarters of the lot was flooded, miring several cars in mud, flattening a chain-link fence and carrying a large metal receptacle several hundred feet down Church Hill Road.

One car, Klink said, was lifted briefly but did not float off the lot.

“That water's powerful, man,” Klink said as he waited for an insurance adjuster to arrive.

At least 14 homes were flooded when Dunbar Creek overran its banks in Dunbar Borough, said Jason Bartholomai, emergency management coordinator for the borough. Some basements had water as high as 5 feet, he said.

Norman Gordon, council president, said the creek touched the bottom of a railroad bridge near Connellsville and Woodvale streets.

“Water was splashing up under the (railroad) ties,” Gordon said. Officials considered evacuating some homes but then the water began to recede, she said.

Gordon said the flooding could possibly have been prevented, had a long-delayed “creek channeling” project been completed. He said the project has been in the works for four decades and calls for dredging the creek, stabilizing its banks and improving drainage.

John Poister, spokesman with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said a project is in the planning phase but additional details were not immediately available Tuesday.

Spokeswoman Susan Griffith of Fayette County Emergency Management Agency said the 911 center received 121 calls for flooding, beginning at 10:30 p.m. Monday. A bridge at Turkeyfoot and Coolspring-Jumonville roads in North Union is closed indefinitely because of flood damage, she said.

Nearly 4 inches of rain fell on the county within a 24-hour period, said John Darnley of the National Weather Service in Moon. Most of it fell between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. Tuesday.

“Anytime you get that amount of rain in that amount of time, you're going to have problems,” Darnley said. “It's not something that happens all the time.”

Darnley said the ground was already saturated from a rainy June. The Connellsville area, he said, recorded 5.79 inches of rain in June, compared to the average of 4.33 inches.

Liz Zemba and Karl Polacek are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Zemba can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com. Polacek can be reached at 724-626-3538.

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