Many residents along the Washington-Allegheny county line are likely still cleaning up this morning after a devastating storm flooded the area Wednesday.
Torrential rains that fell throughout the South Hills and northern Washington County during the morning commute resulted in road closures, ponding water on roads and in yards, and flooded basements.
“In 13 years, I’ve never seen Route 19 flood like it did,” said Peters Township police Officer John Bruce.
Along Washington Road, also known as Route 19, an unoccupied car parked at Marosz service station was lifted by the water cascading from a hill next to Moccasin Drive and floated to the middle of Washington Road, Bruce said.
At Rex Glass, just south of Moccasin Drive, a car stalled in about 2 1/2 feet of water, with Bruce making the decision to close Washington Road to all traffic. The closure lasted between 30 minutes and an hour, bringing rush hour traffic to a standstill. When the flooding receded, Bruce said, public works crews cleared debris from the road before traffic was allowed to proceed.
Crews closed Georgetown Road in Cecil Township for most of the day while the water remained high.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Washington County had not declared a state of emergency.
“There is not enough damage to warrant a countywide disaster declaration,” said Jeff Yates, Washington County director of public safety. He explained that in order for the county to make such a declaration, allowing the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to get involved, a certain percentage of homes have to sustain first-floor flood damage. He said the flooding was mostly confined to basements. He had heard one report of a home in Union Township that had a wall collapse.
Although the county did not seek emergency status, a number of municipalities did, including McDonald, Midway and Robinson Township.
Midway Secretary-Treasurer Darla Protch said the declaration makes the borough eligible for state and federal funds should they become available. She said fire department and road crew personnel were assisting residents by pumping water out of their basements.
“The streets were flooded,” Protch said. “The ballfield, creek and road all look like a lake. You could not establish where one started and the other stopped.”
The owners of Colonial Beer and Soft Drink in McDonald hoped they would be eligible for funding after rushing floodwaters ruined about 200 cases of beer.
“There’s a lot of damage,” said co-owner Ted Ersek. “We can’t sell a lot of beer because, first of all, the packages are destroyed, and, second of all, that water had so many bacteria you’d never want to drink them.
“They’re not good for anything but the Dumpster.”
Ersek suspects the water that rose from Robinson Run behind the property on West Barr Street was tainted by sewage. Because he doesn’t have flood insurance, he was hoping the emergency declaration might make him eligible for recovery funds.
“A couple hundred cases of beer doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s a lot of money,” Ersek said.
Flooding also occurred on Washington Road in Peters Township, closing Circle Drive near Beinhauer Funeral Home, where Bruce estimated the depth of the water to be 2 1/2 to 3 feet.
Several young students had to be evacuated from the Huntington Learning Center, 2848 Washington Road, by police and members of Peters Township Volunteer Fire Department. No injuries were reported when about 6 inches of water entered the building. Pizzazz Pizza in the same area also had flooding.
Bruce said the flooding along Washington Road resulted when a small creek that runs parallel to the road overflowed.
Additional flooding in Peters Township resulted in the closure of Valley Brook Road between East McMurray Road and the site of construction on the new ramp to and from Washington Road. Some motorists opted to attempt a shortcut when Route 19 was closed and ended up driving through “road closed” signs on Thompsonville Road before becoming stranded in a construction area.
Peters Township police Chief Harry Fruecht said he’d never seen flooding along the roads this intense in the 25 years he’s been chief.
In neighboring Cecil Township, Chief Sean Bukovinsky said the heavy rains caused the closure of the intersection of Routes 50 and 980, and the railroad underpass at the bottom of Miner’s Hill in Lawrence on Georgetown Road. In both instances, tow trucks were needed to remove vehicles stuck in the rising water. No drivers needed to be evacuated.
“Route 50 is always an issue for us,” Bukovinsky said shortly after the water receded and the road was opened about 12:15 p.m.
Electrical power to Southpointe was lost briefly, but Bukovinsky said when he arrived at the scene Wednesday morning, West Penn Power crews were switching circuits, the traffic lights were working and power was restored.
He said at least one house had water in the basement along Klinger Road. Flooded basements also were reported in the Lawrence area and in the Fleeher plan.
Portions of Cecil Park between Route 50 and Millers Run were underwater. Employees of the public works department, located adjacent to the park, placed sandbags around the building. Bukovinsky said the water stopped short of entering the building.
Flooding also was reported in Upper St. Clair and South Fayette townships, as well as communities in the South Hills such as Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon. Light-rail service between the South Hills and Pittsburgh was temporarily suspended because of debris blocking the tracks in several areas.
Meteorologist John Darnley of the National Weather Service was keeping a close eye on the colliding high- and low-pressure systems that began to dump rain just before 8 a.m. His wife sent him a picture of the overflowing retention pond near his South Fayette Township residence, something that has not occurred since Hurricane Ivan nearly 10 years ago.
Darnley said best estimates are that about 2 1/2 inches of rain fell in a six-hour time period, with the bulk falling around 8 a.m. Wednesday. More was predicted to hit the area Wednesday night.
Heavy rain was just part of the problem Wednesday morning, Fruecht said.
“The biggest problem is (drivers) don’t look at the ‘road closed’ signs, and they don’t obey the signs and they drive through,” Fruecht said. Even after officers parked police vehicles with flashing lights near the road closed signs, “people were still trying to go through.
“We’re trying to prevent them from being trapped, and then we’d spend more time rescuing them,” Fruecht said.
Staff writer Karen Mansfield contributed to this story.