Nearly 2 inches of rain causes flooding in Westmoreland, Fayette communities
By The Tribune-Review
Published: Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 10:27 a.m.
Southmoreland's football team expected to have home field advantage Friday night in a scrimmage with Jefferson-Morgan.
But heavy rain that pelted Southwestern Pennsylvania with as much as 2 inches of rain in two hours pushed under the athletic field, ripping and crinkling the turf along its path.
“(On Friday) morning, as far as we could see it was underwater,” said Timothy Scott, assistant superintendent. “This whole field — everything — was underwater, a raging torrent of water that went all the way down the bleachers to all the way behind the maintenance building. I've never seen anything like this before.
“I don't think any of us understand the force of water,” he said. “It's a powerful force.”
In low-lying areas, motorists and residents watched in amazement as creeks overflowed, sending torrents of muddy water into yards and across roadways.
The water created ponds around homes near Laurelville, flooded cottages in Ligonier Township and battered homes in Bullskin, Fayette County.
It was a “typical, fast-moving storm,” said Dan Stevens, public information officer for Westmoreland County's Department of Public Safety.
National Weather Service meteorologist John Darnley said a frontal boundary from the northwest combined with a warm, moist air mass to produce the heavy rain.
Darnley said nearly 2 inches of rain fell from 8 to 9 a.m. over the southeast corner of Washington County, the northern portion of Fayette and southern Westmoreland.
“When you have almost 2 inches of rain falling in a short amount of time like that, the tributaries can't drain that amount in a short time,” he said.
A mudslide caused by heavy rainfall caused a 6-mile-long traffic backup in the westbound lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Donegal and New Stanton, around milepost 86, from 10 a.m. until nearly 12:30 p.m.
Turnpike spokesman Bill Capone said equipment was brought in to clear the mud and debris, and one lane was reopened by 11:15 a.m. Both lanes had reopened by 12:30 p.m.
Water rushed over Russ Grimm Field at Southmoreland, rippling the turf on one side of the field, from the fence area nearly to the 50-yard line.
Scott said an insurance adjuster looked at the field Friday and ProGrass, which installed the surface, will assess the damage next week. Friday's scrimmage was moved to Jefferson-Morgan's field.
“We haven't done any (football) schedule changes,” Scott said. “... We need (ProGrass) to assess it and tell us what we're looking at. With as much water (as there was), you can't believe that in a few short hours it receded.”
In Scottdale, borough manager Angelo Pallone said there was some flooding on roads and in basements. Mt. Pleasant Road and Broadway Street were closed briefly.
“Just the rain itself was so crazy,” he said. “It was like a monsoon.”
A dozen summer cottages in Darlington were surrounded by the overflow of 4-Mile Run Creek Friday morning.
Paul Fry, Ligonier borough manager, said 1.5 inches of rain fell from 4 to 6 a.m.
“We got a very hard rain — 3 inches — between 8 and 9 a.m.,” said Bob Fry of the Chestnut Ridge Fire Department.
Sections of routes 711 and 130 were not passable Friday morning, he said.
“Any time you get 2 to 3 inches of rain, the system is not going to be able to handle it,” he said.
The spillway at Donegal Dam was impassable at times, as water rose as high as 18 inches across the roadway.
At Jefferson School Road the creek spilled onto the properties of summer homes. Bob Hazlett's home, built 2 feet above the ground, was surrounded by water but was not damaged.
“We've had floods before. The last one took a picnic table a mile down the creek,” Hazlett said.
As flood water rose nearly 2.5 feet over the stream banks, homeowners pulled out floating logs and salvaged an ice cooler.
Near Soggy Bottom Road, Joe Heshizer sat on his porch watching the swift-moving creek just a few feet away.
“I watched it rise up quickly,” Heshizer said. “It is three times its normal size and about 3 feet wider than usual.”
Mary Hixson said her children woke her at 8:30 a.m. Friday because they thought someone was in the house.
When Hixson looked outside, then in the basement, she was shocked.
“There was water in the basement up to our waists,” Hixson said. “The yard looked like a raging river going through.”
Hixson said her family has weathered at least five flooding incidents this year, but Friday's was by far the worst.
“I don't know how to pay for it,” she said.... I'm not sure where to go and what to do from here.”
Quinn said the Department of Environmental Protection has been contacted to address the problem of the creek flooding in that area, said Rick Quinn of the Bullskin Township Volunteer Fire Department.
Mt. Pleasant Township
On Friday morning, the waters of the normally tranquil Jacobs Creek were cascading at a level Adeline Tylka hadn't seen in nearly 30 years at her Hamel Road home.
“The last time I saw it this high was in August of 1985. There were people kayaking down the stream when it happened then,” she said.
Just down the road, Becky Gordon watched the water, hoping it had crested.
“I've lived here 18 years, and it's never been anywhere near as bad as this,” Gordon said.
Around 10:30 a.m., an unidentified man was swept into the floodwaters from his property along Route 982 in Laurelville. He was pulled from the raging torrent by friends and family members, said township Supervisor Duane Hutter, who works with the Kecksburg Rescue and EMS unit.
Down the road, Jacobs Creek and several tributaries turned the properties of Charles Maccarelli and his neighbors into a virtual lake. At the peak of the flooding, Maccarelli was knee-deep in water in his backyard attempting to fish out flower bed borders and other outdoor items.
The rushing water carried off a decorative wishing well.
“The well was sitting on a slab, and the water just pushed that well from my property to my neighbor's property,” Maccarelli said.
Derek Yoder, Laurelville Mennonite Church Center's host of guest services, was inspecting damage to a concrete wall and a possible sinkhole at the Jacobs Creek waterfall behind the camp office Friday morning.
Mt. Pleasant Township Supervisor Frank Puskar, who went out on flooding calls with township crews all morning, called the storm just the latest in “an awful, wet, cool summer.”
“We've been inundated with bad rains and high water all summer, and the ground is saturated,” he said. “I sure hope this wet weather is not an indicator of what kind of winter we're going to have.”
Debbie Brehun, Nicole Chynoweth, Mark Hoffman, A.J. Panian, Paul Paterra and Paul Peirce contributed.
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