Widespread flooding causes evacuations, blocks roads

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Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
Ross Township firefighters divert traffic from Babcock Blvd near Tally Drive because of high water.
Click photo for larger image.

Widespread flooding was reported across Western Pennsylvania today as the remains of Hurricane Ivan dumped a one-day record rainfall on the region.

Evacuations of low-lying areas began in the afternoon in Oakdale and Etna in Allegheny County, which designated seven emergency shelters. Major roads, such as McKnight in Ross, Route 51 in Overbrook and Route 8 in Shaler were under water. The Pirates canceled their game tonight with the Mets, and numerous high school football games were washed out.

The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh issued a flood warning for Allegheny and many of the counties surrounding it through tonight.

The weather service said any area getting more than two inches of rain today will have flooding in poor drainage areas and along small streams.

Some areas in several counties, including areas hit hard by Hurricane Frances last week, were well over two inches by mid-day today and had set daily rainfall records before 6 p.m.

While the western part of the region was swamped with steady, heavy rain, Bedford and Fulton counties were socked with severe thunderstorms and even had a tornado warning after a storm with "strong rotation" was spotted nine miles south of Breezewood.

At 3 p.m., Allegheny County emergency radio announced that low-lying areas of Etna along Litle Pine Creek were being evacuated. Parts of Indiana Township and West Deer were also evacuated. Route 8 was closed in the area, and access from Route 28 to Etna and Millvale was blocked.

The West Allegheny School District, which serves the Oakdale area, said school buses were not being sent home from the schools because of hazardous road conditions. Students were remaining at the schools until safe routes were found. There were reports that Fort Cherry, South Fayette and North Hills schools were doing the same.

In Burgettstown Area, none of the school buses were permitted to run, but some parents picked up their children.

By 4:30 p.m., Superintendent Deborah Jackson said about half of the district's 1,500 children had been picked up by their parents.

"The kids are safe, that's the important thing. The local police department is not letting us put the buses on the road,'' she said.

Jackson said there was flooding on Route 18 through the town of Burgettstown. She said food service workers were on hand and were "prepared to do whatever it takes.''

In Canon-McMillan School District, the problems were in Cecil Township. While children at Hills-Hendersonville Elementary School were able to get school buses home, the 350 students at Cecil Intermediate School could not. About 100 students were also at Muse Elementary School, about half of the student body.

"We're logging everybody who's present in every school. We're calling their homes to let them know. Everyone is safe. We're pulling out some TVs and VCRs. In the worst case scenarios, both principals have the key to the kitchen,'' said Helen McCracken, assistant to the superintendent in Canon-McMillan.

She said Routes 50 and 980 were reported to have a lot of flooding problems.

In the Sto-Rox School District, students left the school in buses, but some of them -- particularly elementary, parochial and vo-tech students -- were taken back because the buses couldn't continue their routes.

Some parents have picked up their children.

Quaker Valley dismissed its schools early, but some buses encountered difficulties on the road. Those that did took the students to the middle school.

"We're going to feed them. The teachers and administrators are here,'' said John Hanna, district spokesman.

He said food service was working on feeding the students.

In Shaler Area, in a recorded message at 3:20 p.m., superintendent Donald Lee said there were "many'' students from the high and intermediate schools that were returned to their buildings.

At the middle school, some buses were being released toward the Burchfield area.

Elementary students were not being released.

Plum schools were sending buses home slowly and asked parents to be patient while they negotiated the waterlogged roads.

The Port Authority said buses would not be able to get to certain areas this evening, particularly in the North Hills but also on the West Busway. The Library T route has been shut down.

The city of Pittsburgh activated its emergency operations center and closed Route 51 in the South Hills. Cars were reported floating on 51 near Route 88.

The Hays area, frequently the site of flooding, began reporting problems late in the afternoon. A hillside and its trees were sliding onto Mifflin Road, blocking it near Lebanon Road. Boats were reportedly being used to evacuate residents near Glass Run Road, and the Glenwood Bridge was closed.

Allegheny County set up the following emergency shelters: Sto-Rox High School for children; Sto-Rox Middle School for the public; West Allegheny High for kids; Cuddy Fire Hall; Sturgeon Fire Hall; Millvale Recreation Center; and West Deer Fire Department No. 1 for those in the Russellton area.

The Red Cross in Butler County set up shelters at Connoquenessing Elementary School on Route 68 and at the South Butler Primary Center on Knoch Road in Saxonburg.

In Beaver County, emergency officials said flooding was reported in every community and especially those along the Connoquenessing Creek and the Beaver River. Shelters have been set up in Aliquippa Elementary School and the Koppel Volunteer Fire Department.

Meanwhile, heavy rains flooded offices in the Armstrong County Courthouse with as much as two inches of water, sheriff's deputy Earl Floyd said. Crews were using a small bulldozer to push the water out of the courthouse. Other portions of Kittanning were flooded and there were also reports of mudslides, but no serious injuries were reported, Floyd said.

The rain from Ivan approached the region by swirling in from the west and north, soaking the western part of Allegheny and Beaver and Washington counties. The storm stayed over those areas and was moving slowly eastward. Few problems were reported in Westmoreland County, although the Meadows Trailer Park in Washington Township in the northern part of the county was evacuated.

Flood and rainfall forecasts issued at 12:15 p.m. projected only a few areas in the region where major rivers are expected to spill over their banks.

The forecast is for 2 to 4.5 inches of rain to fall in the 24-hour period ending at noon tomorrow. Between 4 a.m., when the rain started, and noon today, areas of Allegheny County got between three-quarters of an inch and an inch of rain. But between noon and just before 6 p.m., 3.54 inches more rain fell at Pittsburgh International Airport. That put today's total at the airport at 4.7 inches, which set the all-time, one-day record for Pittsburgh. The previous high was set just nine days ago -- Sept. 8 -- when the remains of Hurricane Frances dumped 3.66 inches on the airport.

The rain is supposed to taper off tonight and be finished by tomorrow afternoon.

Communities near the airport and in the western part of Allegheny were hit hard.

A bus was reported stranded on Nichol Avenue in the Stowe area. Clever Road was blocked near Montour High School. Steubenville Pike was closed by water and mudslides in Robinson.

And the Woods Run area of Pittsburgh's North Side had several streets under a foot of water.

The weather service is expecting the Youghiogheny River to rise above flood stage this weekend in Somerset County. The river is expected to rise rapidly from 2.9 feet this morning to 7 feet by midnight and above the 12-foot flood stage late tomorrow morning.

The Yough should crest between 12 and 13 feet in the afternoon and fall below flood stage tomorrow evening.

The Ohio River is now expected to rise above flood stage at the Point some time tomorrow and to crest at 27 feet -- 2 above flood stage -- at 2 a.m. Sunday. Wheeling and Moundsville, W.Va., can also expect some minor flooding Sunday morning.

The Monongahela is expected to crest at 28.7 feet at Charleroi at 2 p.m. tomorrow. Flood stage is 28. The crest at Elizabeth will b 21.2 feet at 2 p.m. tomorrow; flood stage is 20. The river will crest at 22.5 feet at Braddock at 8 p.m. tomorrow; flood stage is 22.

No flooding is currently projected on the Allegheny.

The Clarion River at Cooksburg is expected to crest at 14.2 feet at 8 a.m. tomorrow. Flood stage is 13.

The Yough will also be three feet above flood stage tomorrow afternoon at Connellsville.

No flooding is projected for the Beaver River.


More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Staff writers Timothy McNulty, Eleanor Chute and Ken Fisher contributed to this story.


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