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Flash floods take New Kensington by storm

Chuck Biedka
| Saturday, June 19, 2004

Across northern Westmoreland County on Friday, fire crews continued to pump water out of basements and residents worked to clean up the mud and debris left by Thursday's violent flash floods.

At New Kensington's Memorial Park, firefighters were scurrying to pump a pond of standing water in time to set up for next weekend's Community Days festival.

Along with pumping out thousands of gallons of water, firefighters were clearing tires, tree limbs and other debris that the flood carried into the park.

"We are determined," said Linda Litterio, New Kensington Fire Department No. 1 member and co-chairwoman of the Community Days event. "We will get it done."

City crews started a pump around 11 a.m. capable of removing 150 gallons of water per minute.

Mosquitoes were already drawn to the soggy park yesterday morning. Officials are discussing spraying the park for the pests before next weekend's festival, Litterio said.

Until then, firefighters and city crews have one eye on the sky, hoping for sunny, dry days.

"We have a lot of armchair meteorologists who came down here to tell us different things," Litterio said.

Valley High School also suffered flood damage. Athletic officials have closed the school's tennis courts and track until further notice, Athletic Director Frank Link said. Crews were working yesterday afternoon to remove almost 2 inches of mud from both.

Inside, theater advisor Lynn Mosovsky was heartbroken to find a storage area full of costumes and props was ruined by flood water.

"We lost eight years of costumes and all of our wood," Mosovsky said. "We've lost almost everything."

Students and parents came to school yesterday afternoon to haul away muddy bags of ruined clothes.

"These are basically all the costumes that all the students here have ever worn on stage," Mosovsky said. "It's all gone."

Next year, Mosovsky said Viking Theatre will have to start from scratch, building a collection from donated costume items.

"We're going to need angels come next season," she said.

Elsewhere in New Kensington, Stanley and Pat Stanek and family were pushing mud and ooze from their basement in a house they have called home for more than 40 years.

A dark line one-third up the wall of their white block garage showed the depth of Puckey Creek during its Thursday night rampage.

"It wasn't as bad as 1974. We lost a car then," said son, Stanley Stanek Jr. "But we had 6 feet of water this time."

Pat Stanek said the water knocked everything over in the basement.

"It's just a mess. It came up so quickly," she said. "The creek came up within a half-hour. We moved cars, but couldn't do much else."

The back yard looked like a mud track for four-wheelers even after city workers used a small front-end loader to clear most of the mud.

The family's vegetable garden was covered with a layer of silt.

City workers used fire truck hoses, a front-end loader and shovels to remove the debris and mud from streets, said worker Tim Gorencic.

Others were trying to remove trees and other items wedged under the bridge.

In Arnold, the rain was so heavy that it washed away the embankment next to Constitution Boulevard, and it took part of the Jersey barrier with it.

In Allegheny Township, Bill Reese said it's common for spring storms to form a small pond near his Melwood Automotive shop on Melwood Road.

"But it's never been this bad," he said.

The storm shoved some of the cars and SUVs awaiting work sideways and tore away the earth above the sewer line that was installed across the road about four years ago, he said while hooking chains to yet another car to pull it out of the muck.

"Down the road at Copeland Road a drainage pipe was pushed out, and now there's about a 8-foot gap in the road," he said.

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