They came from East Liberty, Homewood, Oakland, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill with variations of the same story -- chronic flooding that's rotted their walls, ruined their carpets, set their cars afloat and cost thousands of dollars in repairs.
About 300 people turned out Tuesday night for a community hearing on flooding, an issue that's gripped the city since heavy rains Aug. 19 damaged the East End again and triggered a flash flood on Washington Boulevard in Highland Park that killed four people. About 50 residents -- some angry, others sad and pleading for help -- went to the microphone to share nightmares about sewage and stormwater.
Elizabeth Beroes of Shadyside said a 2009 flood put 8 feet of water in her basement, lifted the cars in her garage and slammed them against the walls.
"We're on our second round of furnaces, our second round of hot water heaters," she said.
Richard Rattner, president of the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce, said flooding in recent years has caused $5 million in damage to 72 neighborhood businesses.
Mike Bane of Highland Park said he's had to deal with three floods in the six months he has owned his home, while Julie McCabe of Homewood said repeated flooding has caused more than $10,000 in damage to her home and left 2- to 3-inch pools to clean up each time.
Ted Melnyk, operations director for Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Shadyside, said floods this summer caused $150,000 in damage to about 6,000 square feet of finished space.
"It's all raw sewage. ... We're getting tired of cleaning it up," he said.
City Councilman Bill Peduto and a handful of community groups organized the hearing at Winchester Thurston School in Shadyside. Among those attending were Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Public Safety Director Michael Huss, Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski, executives of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, state legislators and city council members.
Officials say they're trying to pinpoint the causes of the Washington Boulevard disaster and determine why other parts of the city are subject to repeated flooding, but speakers offered a few ideas of their own, including too much commercial development, malfunctioning catch basins and a storm water management system that isn't designed to meet the city's current needs.
Mr. Ravenstahl said the city is still working on plans to increase public safety in flood-prone Washington Boulevard.
The immediate response has been to station police on the road with orders to close it if water starts to rise. Mr. Ravenstahl said a medium-term solution may be to install gates that would be lowered during heavy rains.
A long-term engineering solution also is under discussion, he said, adding that the speakers' stories underscored the need to address broader drainage problems in eastern neighborhoods. He told the crowd that he's committed to finding solutions.
Speakers said they were concerned that repeated flooding had brought bacteria into their homes or damaged them to the point that they're unsalable. The hearing drew a handful of homeowners from Maryland Avenue, a part of Shadyside notorious for flooding.
One Maryland Avenue resident, Rochelle Solomon, said the muck from 25 years of flooding makes her feel like she has a "Third World country in my basement." Another, Chris Kouklis, said neighbors often commiserate about the damage.
"It would be nice to bond with them over a beer or glass of wine and not over sewage," he said.
Joe Smydo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548.