FEMA tours flood-damaged areas

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Federal and state emergency management workers fanned out across northern Washington County Tuesday to assess flood damage from the heavy storms that pounded the area two weeks ago.


The four teams of workers from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and its federal counterpart, FEMA, spent the day talking to municipal officials and residents about the storm damage and cleanup this area experienced from the recent storms.


The FEMA and PEMA crews, along with county public safety workers, are trying to determine if Washington County incurred enough flood damage to be eligible for federal disaster funds. Among the hardest-hit areas from the July 10 flooding were Cecil, McDonald, Midway, Mt. Pleasant, Peters and Robinson.


George Protch, McDonald’s street department supervisor, took his group to view the borough’s main park and three bridges over streams that flow into Robinson Run. He showed the damage to borough property, added up the cleanup costs and explained how the flooding could have been more devastating if it had happened the previous week during the annual McSummerfest activities at the park.


“If this had happened a week earlier during (McSummerfest) it would’ve been a disaster,” Protch said while standing on the still-swampy football field. “They pulled out just in time.”


Half of the teams were assessing damage to public properties while the other two groups were working with homeowners and small businesses to determine the cost of the storms. The overall flood damage in the county has to reach a yet-to-be-determined threshold for the federal government to release emergency funds to the affected areas.


In McDonald alone, 40 homes needed to be pumped dry, and five people had to be rescued from chest-high water. Borough officials said the flooding cost the municipality at least $27,000, a third of which came from damage to the park.


In nearby Cecil Township, one of the areas hardest hit by the storms, municipal workers are still trying to gauge the scope of the damage.


“Our park saw some flooding and damage,” Cecil Township Manager Don Gennuso said. “There was a lot of debris on streets and roads. Lots of residents saw flooding.”


Congressman Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, has already toured some of the affected areas in his district and wrote to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate asking for the agency to work quickly to release emergency funds.


“I applaud the quick action of FEMA and PEMA in getting out to the affected areas, and I stand ready to work with your office to ensure this process under the Stafford Act is completed expeditiously because many of the affected communities lack the budget or tax base necessary to deal with a disaster of this magnitude,” Murphy wrote.


The FEMA and PEMA crews have spent time in Allegheny, Venango, Clearfield and Centre counties, and are planning to travel to Lawrence County later this week.


A spokeswoman from the Pennsylvania Emergency Operations Center did not immediately return a phone call seeking information on the overall flood damage to Washington County.


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