Cleanup continues from heavy rain in Westmoreland communities
By Nicole Chynoweth and Joe Napsha
Published: Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Mary Phillips got the wildest ride of her 86 years Wednesday night from firefighters who put her in an inflatable boat and towed it through the raging waters of Four Mile Run that surrounded her one-story Ligonier Township home.
“It was some boat ride we had. I was more worried about them getting me out of the boat,” Phillips said on Thursday as family and friends cleaned the mud left by floodwaters that ruined carpeting and buckled flooring.
Using boats supplied by the Greensburg Fire Department's swift water rescue team, Darlington firefighters pulled Phillips and her son, David, to safety from their house along Buckstrail Lane. She got a short ride in a front loader truck to safe ground before she was taken to a Ligonier motel to spend the night.
The Phillipses were among more than a dozen people in Westmoreland County who were rescued from homes and vehicles Wednesday as sheets of heavy rain pounded a path through Washington Township south to Donegal and east to Ligonier. The National Weather Service said as much as 21⁄2 inches of rain fell from New Alexandria through Latrobe and Donegal.
David Phillips said they were “fooled” that morning by rising waters that receded after a storm rolled through the Ligonier Valley. An afternoon deluge pushed the stream over its banks, and it spread across their yard, encircling their house.
“It came up within two hours. It was almost like a flash flood,” he said.
During other floods, they had always left the house. This time, they waited too long, he said.
“When (the water) came into the house, we figured it was time to get out,” he said. “The Darlington fire department, thank God for them.”
‘It came fast'
Four Mile Run chased Don Boyer, 61, and his 88-year-old father, Harry, from Don's Ross Road home in Ligonier Township, where water rose more than 2 feet in the garage.
Don Boyer, who lives in North Carolina, purchased the home in July 2012 and had just moved in some furniture Sunday.
“We didn't realize we needed to get out until about 6 o'clock. It came creeping up and creeping up, but when it went over the banks, it came fast,” Boyer said. “A rescue squad brought one of those little inflatable boats and pulled us out of there.”
Because Ross Road was closed, Greensburg's swift water rescue team drove the Boyers to Darlington Fire Hall in the bucket of a front loader truck. Boyer's brother took them to his home in Johnstown for the night.
Boyer inspected the house Thursday morning and found no major damage, just mud and debris deposited in the yard.
Unity Supervisor Mike O'Barto said the cleanup centered on the Lloydsville and St. Vincent Lake areas. Road crews spent Thursday removing fallen tree limbs and debris from Grove, Miscovich and other roads.
“The work will take a couple weeks,” said O'Barto, adding that many roads in the township were flooded. “We're working to make sure people can utilize the roads.”
No stopping it
Along Latrobe-Crabtree Road, Fran Santella, who owns Sun Valley Kennel with her husband, George, was scooping up several inches of mud left inside the kennel on Thursday.
“I have three daughters and friends just dropping in, cleaning awhile,” she said.
Santella said she opened the kennel door around 2 p.m. Wednesday and saw rising, muddy water.
“It just started pouring,” she said. “(The water) started backing up the drains and coming down the gutters, but they couldn't handle it all. ... There was no stopping it.”
Santella said she had to move 10 “worked up” dogs into cages bolted to the walls.
She called Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety for help with pumping water out of the kennel, but when firefighters arrived they said couldn't start until the rain tapered off.
Crabtree firefighters worked for seven hours Wednesday, pumping out the basements of 20 to 30 homes.
“Probably with another half hour of (rain), we would have plunked people out of their homes,” said fire Chief Bill Watkins. “There was no place for the water to go.”
Crews made nine vehicle rescues and several house rescues in Avonmore and Allegheny, Derry, Ligonier and Unity townships, said Dan Stevens, Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety spokesman.
George McFarland, captain of Greensburg's swift-water rescue team, said they rescued four people and a dog from the Darlington area, including a woman in a wheelchair.
“In Darlington, the water was a little swift. You never know what you are up against. The water can eat a hole in the ground. It's tremendously dangerous,” McFarland said.
Stevens said in just 20 minutes, Route 711 between Route 31 and County Line Road was covered by 2 feet of water around 6 p.m.
About five families were rescued from a mobile home park in Washington Township.
Water rescue units from several other departments assisted; others waited on standby to deploy.
“We have a lot of volunteer firemen who are trained in water rescue,” Stevens said. “They put in a lot of time, energy and effort to master their craft of being able to rescue people during swift-water events.”
Stevens said about 150 flooding calls came in between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Many of the vehicle rescues involved people who drove into high water.
“If you see water, turn around and don't drown. You don't know what's underneath that water. ... It only takes 6 to 8 inches to make a car float,” Stevens said.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or email@example.com. Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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