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3rd time anything but a charm

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 5:16 a.m.

Mildred Myers sat on her front porch Monday morning surrounded by clothing and carpets she had hung over the railing to dry.

For the third time in a year, Myers and her neighbors along Mill Creek in Ligonier Borough were forced to flee as the rising waters from the small stream rushed across a field, down streets and into driveways. The water filled garages, basements and even first-floor living quarters.

"It was just overwhelming this time. It happens too often any more," Myers said. "It was ravaging."

Remnants of Hurricane Ivan dumped more than 8 inches of rain on some locales, causing massive flooding in many Allegheny County communities. The northern section of Westmoreland County, specifically Lower Burrell and Allegheny Township, had flooding damage described as devastating.

Floodwaters also affected the small, quaint town of Ligonier in the eastern section of the county. Rising waters from Mill Creek caused the mandatory evacuation of eight people early Saturday morning. Four people stayed at a shelter set up at the borough YMCA.

Others saw the water levels rise and decided on their own to get out while they still could.

Helen Kintey said the water rose so quickly she barely had time to get her 88-year-old mother to safety.

"I was here at 6:10 p.m. then left because it looked pretty good. When it came up, it came up fast. I came back at around 6:30 and it came up to the house and got in. If I didn't get there when I did, the firemen would have had to come with a boat to get her out," Kintey said.

Flooding from Mill Creek has almost become the norm. Borough Manager Jack Berger said Ivan's rains prompted evacuations for the third time in a year.

And more flooding will follow unless the creek is dredged, Berger predicted.

"The state will not allow us to do it. They say it won't help," Berger said.

Water from Mill Creek flowed up Walnut and Indian streets. Some homes took on as much as 4 feet of water. As the rains continued to fall, homes several blocks from the creek also sustained damage.

"This is the worst I've ever seen. All the streets were flooded, and there was no place for the water to go," said Lance Baloga, who sat outside his Mill Creek Street home with rugs draped over a nearby railing to dry. "I've never seen it this bad."

Officials yesterday had no estimate of the financial impact of the flooding. Most homes touched by floodwaters appeared to sustain some loss, but borough officials reported no major destruction.

Floodwaters did damage pumps at the borough's sewer treatment plant. The plant continued to operate, though, as portable pumps were brought in. Berger said the plant is now operating at two-thirds capacity.

Countywide, public safety officials reported 29 buildings were destroyed, all in the Lower Burrell and Allegheny Township areas, as a result of last weekend's flooding. Dan Stevens, spokesman for the Westmoreland County Public Safety Department, said most of the damage was sustained by residents of those northern communities, as 100 buildings sustained major damage and 260 structures had minor damage.

Stevens reported 155 buildings across the county sustained major damage, 394 sustained minor damage and another 135 structures were affected by Friday's flooding.

"Those numbers are going to grow," Stevens said.

In all, 91 people throughout Westmoreland County were evacuated from their homes, and 27 spent a night or two in shelters. All of the shelters are now closed.

On Sunday, President Bush declared Pennsylvania a major disaster, paving the way for the use of federal funds to help people recover from storm damage.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency will coordinate the assistance and will administer grants to pay for temporary housing, home repairs and other major disaster-related expenses. The federal government also will make available low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help pay for losses sustained by businesses and homeowners who are not fully compensated by insurance.

The declaration means the federal government will pay 75 percent of eligible costs to local governments in the affected counties for debris removal and emergency services related to the storm.

Other counties declared federal disaster areas include Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Indiana and Washington. Rendell also asked for federal assistance for eight additional counties, including Greene and Somerset.

In Washington County, emergency management officials said that as of yesterday afternoon 105 buildings were destroyed, 96 suffered major damage and another 261 sustained minor damage. There were 341 buildings in the county that were affected by the rain.

Ron Sicchitano, deputy director of the county's public safety department, said no major injuries were reported and most roads have been reopened in Washington County.

Mildred Myers, who lives along Mill Creek in Ligonier Borough, hangs winter sweaters out to dry Monday after they were soaked in the storage shed behind her home during Friday's flooding.

Lenny Oldham, of Servpro Cleaning and Restoration, contemplates the best way to go about drying out Mildred Myers' office in her Ligonier Borough home.

Help is on the way

These federal disaster aid programs may be available, as needed and warranted, under the disaster declaration issued in the wake of last week's devastating storm:

For families and individuals

  • Rental payments for temporary housing for those whose homes are no longer fit to live in. Initial assistance may be provided for as long as three months for homeowners, one month for renters; assistance may be extended. (Aid provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.)

  • Grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance, to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional. (Aid provided by FEMA.)

  • Grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other aid programs. (Aid provided by FEMA and the state.)

  • Low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully covered by insurance. Loans are available for as much as $200,000 for a primary residence, $40,000 for personal property, including renters' losses. Loans also available for business property losses not fully compensated by insurance. (Aid provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration.)

  • Loans of as much as $1.5 million for small businesses that have sustained disaster-related cash-flow problems and need funds for working capital to recover from the impact of the disaster. A loan, in combination with a property loss loan, cannot exceed a total of $1.5 million. (Aid provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration.)

  • Loans of as much as $500,000 for farmers, ranchers and aquaculture operators to cover production and property losses. (Aid provided by the Farm Service Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

  • Other relief programs including crisis counseling, income tax assistance for filing casualty losses and advice regarding veterans benefits and Social Security matters. (Aid provided by various agencies.)

    For state and local governments

  • Payment for 75 percent of eligible costs for removing debris from public areas and for emergency measures taken to save lives and protect property and public health. (Aid provided by FEMA, administered by the state.)

  • Payment of 75 percent of approved costs for hazard mitigation projects undertaken by state and local governments to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property. (Aid provided by FEMA, administered by the state.)

    How to apply for assistance

  • Residents of counties designated for assistance may begin the process by calling toll-free 800-621-3362 (800-621-FEMA); phones will be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week until further notice. Hearing-impaired applicants may call 800-462-7585 (TTY). Applicants should be prepared to provide basic information (name, permanent address, phone number), details about insurance coverage and other information to help substantiate losses.

  • Application procedures for local governments will be explained at a series of briefings; locations will be announced.

    Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency

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