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Jeannette homeowners told city waiting on word about federal help

| Saturday, April 28, 2012, 2:27 a.m.

Jayson Miller said his Jeannette home has been "uninhabitable" since the June 17 storm that invaded Western Pennsylvania.

"We had 11 feet of water," he said about the South Fifth Street home he shares with his wife, Rachel, and their two children. "It covered all the electrical outlets on the first floor of the house. We lost everything in the basement. The property damage itself was 110 feet of fencing, retaining walls, cracked sidewalks, the yard itself. We lost both of our cars."

Miller, whose family is staying with relatives, was just one of many residents that jammed city hall Wednesday night to relate their plight to council. It was an impassioned gathering that had many people trying to talk at once to tell their story and forced Mayor Michael Cafasso to use his gavel to restore order from time to time.

Jeannette was one of several communities hit hard by the storm, which devastated homes of many residents and wreaked havoc on city businesses.

Robert Carter, speaking in his role as deputy emergency management coordinator, said more than 100 residences and more than 30 businesses have reported being affected in some way by the storm.

Ed Antonacci, city engineer, said 10 roads were damaged and the city's damage estimate for roads and sewers alone is about $472,000.

Carter explained Jeannette, like all other affected communities, is awaiting word on whether any federal aid will be forthcoming.

On June 29, Gov. Ed Rendell declared Westmoreland and Allegheny counties disaster areas and requested federal assistance with cleanup from the floods. A letter was sent to President Obama saying the magnitude of the damage is beyond the response capabilities of the state.

"We're waiting for the president to sign the declaration," Carter said. "The city's hands are tied right now. The city has done everything it could possibly do."

Members of the capacity crowd wanted to know what can be done now, especially with friends and neighbors struggling in conditions that have drastically changed their lives.

"Right now people are in need. How are we helping these people?" asked resident Angela McGowan. "What I need to know is what do we need to do as a community to help people?"

City officials said steps are being taken to assist with cleanup efforts, and Cafasso promised the placement of some extra Dumpsters.

Gary Pilkington, a member of the city's fire department, said funding is being sought so rescue boats can be purchased, as well as suits to protect from water contamination and flotation devices.

"We're trying to prevent this from happening again, so we don't have to wait 45 minutes for rescue boats to get here." Pilkington said.

Patience was stressed a few times by Jeannette officials and Cafasso asked for a collective effort to get the city back in shape.

"This is a stressful situation," the mayor said. "I got hit too, we all did ... . We're no different than you are. We're not sitting on a wad of cash that we're holding back from you. We're trying to do the best we can. We have to work together."

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