Aliquippa awash after rains cause scattered flooding

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Flash flooding turned much of downtown Aliquippa into a river yesterday afternoon, with high waters carrying cars down its main street, Franklin Avenue, and ruining businesses and homes.

John Heller, Post-Gazette
High water floods Franklin Avenue in Aliquippa yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.

The storms dumped 3 1/2 inches of rain in about two hours, and at its height, the water was almost up to the windows of cars.

The heaviest rainfalls were recorded in Beaver County. Baden and Monaca both recorded 4 1/2 inches of rain and some areas in northern Allegheny County received 2 1/2 inches of rain.

The heavy rains also forced the shutdown of Interstate 79 around midafternoon in both directions between the Interstate 279 interchange and Neville Island Bridge due to flooding and downed utility lines.

Also, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation closed two state roads in Westmoreland County, which saw 4 1/2 inches of rain in 90 minutes.

"The roadway of Pine Run Church Road was falling apart," said an official with the Westmoreland County Emergency Operations Center.

Franklin Avenue in Aliquippa as well as Routes 51 and 68 in Beaver County ended up closing as well.

By last night, the waters had receded from Aliquippa's downtown streets, but left behind a huge mess of ankle-deep mud and debris. Portions of Franklin and adjoining streets remained closed.

Beaver County Commissioner Joe Spanik said he can't remember the last time he's seen such flooding.

"We're pumping out a lot of basements now and cleaning up," he said last night.

Five families, including 50 people attending a family reunion, were evacuated after small bridge washed out. A day-care center on Franklin also had to be evacuated.

"There are a lot of people here who are going to have to wrestle with their insurance companies," said the Rev. Marvin Moreland, whose sister-in-law's Chrysler had floated down Franklin about 20 feet until it came to rest against a small tree.

"We're going to have to start over," said John Stanley, proprietor of the Uncommon Grounds Cafe. "All of our stock is gone," he said, "and all of our prices are set just to break even." The coffee shop, performance space and community center is run by volunteers on a low budget.

Water climbed up to a foot in the coffee shop in the afternoon, ruining the carpet and the food.

Natural gas company crews were shutting off service to many homes and businesses with flooded basements. Emergency crews from more than a half-dozen neighboring communities responded to the scene to lend assistance.

"I thought I could make it, but my car stalled," said Julie Frisch-Albert, who was driving on Kennedy Boulevard when the rain hit.

The downpours that dumped more than 4 inches of rain in a few hours were equal to what the region normally receives in a typical July, said Lou Giordano of the National Weather Service.

"It was a cluster of thunderstorms that moved slowly across the region, so some areas got hit pretty hard," Mr. Giordano said.

But other areas got very little rain. Castle Shannon recorded about 3/4 of an inch and Pleasant Hills received about a half-inch. About 1 1/2 inches fell on Pittsburgh International Airport.

Flash-flood warnings were issued in Allegheny, Beaver, Westmoreland, Armstrong, Indiana and Fayette counties. Some minor flooding was also reported in Washington County.

The start of the Pirates game, scheduled for 12:35 p.m. yesterday, was delayed by more than two hours.


Dan Majors contributed to this report. Michael Birnbaum can be reached at mbirnbaum@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533. Laura Yao can be reached at lyao@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.


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