Flooded Jefferson, Clearfield counties face lingering cleanup effort

Flood 'definitely took a toll' on residents

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In the wake of a storm that left several feet of floodwater in parts of Jefferson and Clearfield counties, state officials said the cleanup process could extend through the summer.

The Thursday storm effectively shut down the city of DuBois, sent 200 people to Red Cross shelters and prompted the declaration of disaster emergencies.

Basements and businesses flooded as hundreds of emergency workers converged, including those from neighboring municipalities.

"It definitely took a toll on a lot of these residents," said Tracy Zents, the director of emergency services for Jefferson County. "It's all kind of a blur."

No fatalities were reported, though there were a handful of injuries.

Mr. Zents hopes that most areas will see significant improvements by Monday, despite lingering cleanup efforts. The effort has required nearly round-the-clock work from local emergency personnel.

"Emergency personnel all got a little bit of sleep overnight," said John Scolese, the Reynoldsville emergency management coordinator in Jefferson County. "We're tired but we're doing what we have to do."

Local officials said damage assessments are just beginning.

In Jefferson County alone, 10 bridges overseen by the state were closed due to flooding and 60 more needed to be inspected, according to Deborah Casadei, a PennDOT spokeswoman.

"Due to the extensive flooding, the crews will be busy through the summer repairing washouts, damages, drainage, and other cleanup and repair activities," Ms. Casadei said.

She said people have attempted to drive over bridges marked "closed," and cautioned some of these bridges have not yet been inspected after the storm.

Reynoldsville, Sykesville and the surrounding areas were all affected, but DuBois, a small Clearfield County city, was hit harder than most.

"The majority of the city was affected, even the higher levels," said Herm Suplizio, the DuBois city manager. He called the flooding "massive" and said at least 100 businesses were impacted. "I don't know that this has really ever happened to us before, and really, there was very little warning."

Tom Green, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said it is nearly impossible to predict when what are essentially conventional rainstorms will turn out to be significant weather events.

"It's one thing if you have a hurricane coming into an area," Mr. Green said. "Considering how rare it is to have a 6-inch rain event, it's really hard to pinpoint. The science isn't there."

The single-day rainfall record for Pittsburgh is 5.95 inches, which was logged during hurricane Ivan in 2004, Mr. Green said. About 6 inches of rain fell in just eight hours around Jefferson County.

The possibility of further flooding still lingers -- scattered showers are in the forecast for the next several days.

Nickolas Suplizio, a lifelong DuBois resident and volunteer firefighter, said the floodwater has receded in most areas, but the damage will be lasting.

"I don't know what's going to happen when people go back to work on Monday," he said. "Downtown was just completely gone."

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Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman.


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