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Rains turning to ice, snow

| Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2004

The combination of overnight snow showers and freezing temperatures, combined with problems created by the flooding of the past two days, could make things dicey today for the second straight morning rush hour.

Although only an inch or less of snow was predicted, problems were expected to be compounded as runoff water from the heavy weekend rains freezes on the roadways.

"It could be a challenging morning," said Dick Skrinjar, a local spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

Temperatures, which were to fall into the teens overnight, are not expected to rise out of the mid-20s today, National Weather Service meteorologist Terry Parrish said. He said normal winter weather is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Mudslides and high water from the record rainfall closed a number of roads in Allegheny and surrounding counties Sunday night and Monday morning.

The 10th Street Bypass, Downtown -- along with about a dozen roads in Beaver County -- remained underwater last night and officials said it was impossible to predict when any would reopen.

Even after the waters recede, the freezing temperatures will make it harder to clear any mud and debris from the roadway, Skrinjar said.

One inbound lane of Route 28 between the 31st Street and 40th Street bridges on the North Side was to remain closed today while crews continue to work to clear debris from two mudslides near the Millvale Industrial Park, Skrinjar said.

The slides forced officials to close the road prior to yesterday morning's rush hour. Crews removed several hundred tons of mud and debris and were able to reopen two outbound lanes and one of the inbound lanes yesterday afternoon, Skrinjar said.

Inbound traffic will probably be restricted to a single lane for the next few days as workers try to stabilize the hillside, Skrinjar said.

Crews also closed two lanes of Route 51 in Stowe after a landslide covered the roadway near the Fleming Park Road Bridge. Andrew Kost, an assistant district executive for PennDOT, said two lanes were still passable - one in each direction. Traffic restrictions there also will last a few days, Kost said.

There were problems during yesterday's evening rush hour along the Parkway East inbound between Downtown and Oakland after a tree fell from the hillside. State police said the middle and right lanes of the three-lane highway were closed for about 90 minutes until the debris was removed shortly before 5:30 p.m.

The Ohio River was expected to crest early today about a foot below flood stage Downtown at Point State Park, Parrish said. Flood stage at the Point is considered 25 feet, although Pittsburgh Public Works Director Guy Costa pointed out that some parts of the park as well as the North Shore Park flood at 19 feet. The Mon Parking Wharf floods at 18 feet.

Parrish said 1.82 inches of rain fell Sunday at the National Weather Service station in Moon, breaking the old record of 0.99 inches of rain that fell in Pittsburgh on Jan. 4, 1971.

Parrish said 3.15 inches of rain has been recorded at the Moon station since Jan. 1.

The wettest January on record in Pittsburgh was 1936, with 7.15 inches of precipitation, both rain and melted snow. Normal precipitation for January in Pittsburgh is 2.70 inches, Parrish said.

Meteorologists generally say that each inch of rain equals about 10 inches of snow, meaning the region would now be digging out from under nearly three feet of snow had the temperatures been below freezing.

"I'd rather have to deal with the mud than 30 inches of snow," Costa said.

Most of the flooding was confined to roadways and basements, but there were exceptions.

A family of eight -- including a baby on a ventilator -- had to be rescued yesterday from a home surrounded by waters from the Connoquenessing Creek in Franklin near Ellwood City, emergency officials in Beaver County said.

Several people had to be rescued late Sunday from a group home along Vilsack Street in Etna after waters flooded the first floor, borough manager Mary Ellen Ramage said.

Margaret Yurechko, of Elizabeth Township, suffered a twisted ankle and minor smoke inhalation while escaping from a fire early yesterday in her home on West Smithfield Street. Police Chief Robert Wallace said officials believe the fire started when a shop vacuum the woman was using to dry her flooded basement overheated after she went to bed.

Two barges broke loose yesterday morning along the Ohio River, causing authorities in Beaver County to briefly close the Vanport Bridge, as well as bridges that connect Aliquippa and Ambridge, East Rochester and Monaca and Rochester and Monaca. Another barge broke loose from Leetsdale in the afternoon, forcing police to briefly close the Ambridge-Aliquippa span a second time.

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