Rain came down strong in southern Pittsburgh-area communities


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Once it started, it just kept coming.

First, it fell from the sky, and when the rain stopped, it rose from the creeks.

By the time the morning's torrential downpour ended, widespread flooding had hit communities in the southern hills of Pittsburgh especially hard.

A road in Elizabeth Borough was wiped out, isolating a small neighborhood from the rest of the borough. In nearby Jefferson Hills, an office complex flooded when a creek overflowed its banks, sending employees escaping the building with wet pant legs and causing a hazardous materials team to respond to oil drums that had spilled inside.

It started early.

The rain was coming down strong when Pam Sharp, secretary for Elizabeth, arrived at the borough building around 8 a.m.

"It was like somebody was throwing buckets of water on my car," she said.

Usually, it is the Monongahela River, which divides Elizabeth and West Elizabeth, that causes worry during heavy rainfalls, Ms. Sharp said. So it was a surprise when Elizabeth officials learned that there was heavy flooding in what is known as the Pilfershire neighborhood of Elizabeth.

"It looked like Ohiopyle coming down the road," said Paul Battle, 54, who lives on Cemetery Street and referred to a river rapids in a Western Pennsylvania park where fast-moving water is far more common than it is in his neighborhood.

Irwin Street, the road that intersects his own, saw the brunt of the flooding.

A pipe that passes under the road, carrying runoff water from higher elevations into Fallen Timber Creek, burst Wednesday morning, breaking apart the roadway and washing away the rest of the road.

"We now have a river running through, dividing our town, trapping several houses on the other side of it," said Monica Glowinski, the borough council president, who said she looked out the window of her home in the 1,600-person borough Wednesday morning and said to herself: "This is not going to be a good day."

For the residents of the nine houses that sit on Irwin and Polk streets, it wasn't. Emergency responders placed a board across the gap where the road once was to help residents -- and a small beagle recovering from surgery -- to evacuate, said John Snelson, the Elizabeth police officer-in-charge.

All were staying with family members, he said, except for one couple that chose to remain.

A rope had been placed across the gap in the road in case a rescue was necessary if the flooding worsened. Christie Hammonds, who lives on Polk Street with her husband and three children, said her basement was flooded. Water stood in deep pools in her yard.

"Obviously, there's going to be an awful lot of work" to fix the road, Ms. Glowinski said.

Heavy rainfall brought on the problems in Elizabeth, but for Terry Breault, owner of Water and Fire Restoration in Jefferson Hills, his problems started when the rain stopped.

Mr. Breault and his 20 employees were inside their newly restored offices inside the Clark Testing complex as they watched the rain come down. Then after it stopped, they saw Peters Creek come up, rising about 7 feet over its banks and covering a distance a firefighter estimated at 50 to 75 feet to the building.

Inside part of the building, in 55-gallon drums, were fuels including jet and diesel, said Rick Siagel of Clark Testing. An inspection by hazardous materials crews showed that some of the drums had spilled, said Brian Chalfant of the Jefferson Hills fire department.

The spill, he said, was contained to the building, but crews were installing precautionary booms in Peters Creek, which leads to the Monongahela River.

Nearby, Mr. Breault stood with his employees, many of them with shoes off and pant legs wet. It had been a nerve-racking morning, as the water rose in the creek outside and, then, in their building. By 1 p.m., he said, there was 3 feet of water inside his office.

"We were nervous as hell," Mr. Breault said. "We didn't know if it was going to start knocking down those walls inside."

They tried to salvage something but lost most everything, including six vehicles that flooded and fish from an indoor pond that were swept into the waters.

In the heat of the afternoon, Mr. Breault and his employees washed off and found changes of clothes. They stayed in the parking lot, because they couldn't return to their offices.

Once the waters recede, their next restoration client might be themselves, Mr. Breault said.

"We'll get through it," Mr. Breault said. "We have no choice."

weather - region

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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