Last flood victim is identified
Search and rescue personnel examine a site off Washington Boulevard where a woman reportedly was swept away by Friday's flood. Her body was recovered today.
K-9 units assisted in the search for a woman who was swept away in the flood Friday. Her body was recovered today.
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The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office has identified the fourth victim of Friday's flooding, found along the shore of the Allegheny River near Washington Boulevard.
Mary Saflin, 72, of Oakmont, was pronounced dead at 12:50 p.m. today after searchers found her body.
Strong storms yesterday caused sudden flooding on the road that runs between Highland Park and Lincoln/Lemington. Kimberly Griffith, 45, of Plum, and her daughters, Brenna, 12, and Mikaela, 8, were pronounced dead inside their car at 6:10 p.m. Friday, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office. They were trapped in their vehicle in waters that rose as high as 9 feet and drowned. Ms. Saflin's body was found partly in the water and partly on shore halfway between the Highland Park Bridge and the 62nd Street Bridge. Officials believe she ended up in the river because she had gotten out of her vehicle and was drawn into a storm sewer just off Washington Boulevard.
The Griffith family vehicle was forced against a tree, according to officials. It was completely submerged, so rescuers initially didn't realize it was there.
A message on the Plum Borough School District's website reads, "We are shocked and saddened by the deaths of two of our students, Brenna and Mikaela Griffith, and their mother, Kimberly Griffith, in the Washington Boulevard flash flood of Aug. 19.
"The Plum Borough School District extends our deepest sympathy to the Griffith family. In the days and weeks to come, we will remain attentive and responsive to the needs that emerge from this tragedy as we attempt to cope with this loss.
"Grief counseling will be available for students and their families on Monday, Aug. 22 and Tuesday, Aug. 23 at the Center ELementary School and Obloch Junior High School."
Three Pittsburgh police officers and Raymond DeMichiei, deputy director of the PIttsburgh office of Emergency Management, who used two row boats commandeered from a nearby marina, and River Rescue personnel rescued 15 people who were clinging to trees or stranded on the roofs of their vehicles. Eighteen vehicles were recovered when the water levels dropped. Officials searched Friday night and this morning for the final victim, who had been talking to her daughter on the phone before the line went dead. Police found that woman's purse at the scene.
Now that the search has been called off, Washington Boulevard will be reopened to traffic.
Officials are trying to piece together why the flooding occurred and so quickly at that. They suspect a lack of capacity of the storm and sanitary sewer system to handle the large volume of water.
Two 100-inch pipes underground in the valley in which Washington Boulevard is located and extending to the Allegheny River receive sanitary and stormwater runoff from a large watershed that includes Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington, North and South Point Breeze, and parts of Wilkinsburg, Squirrel Hill and Shadyside.
Mr. DeMichiei estimated that in the Washington Boulevard area 1 3/4 inches of rain fell in 45 minutes. Even more than than that fell in Shadyside.
The apparent overcapacity, meaning the water couldn't flow into the Allegheny River, caused such a kinetic effect in backing up that it blew 60-pound manhole covers into the air, setting off 10-foot geyers of water that filled a natural basin on a section of Washington Boulevard where the main flooding occurred. Mud and debris filled the roadway but had been removed by this morning.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is responsible for the surface of the roadway, said spokesman Jim Struzzi, but the city is responsible for storm drains and the sewer system. He said the area has a history of flooding, including an incident last month in which motorists had to be rescued.
"We responded after the flooding occurred," he said. "We repaired damage to the road and reopened Route 8. We are not responsible for drainage within the city, only the surface of the road." He said that because of the history of flooding, officials were aware of the problem. "We've been in ongoing discussions with the city," he said.
The storm caused power outages Friday, with 11,000 customers without power at the peak. As of 8 a.m., Duquesne Light Co. reported that 250 customers remain out of service. All customers should be restored by 6 p.m. today, according to spokesman Joey Vallarian.
Residents are also asked to please report any outages by calling Duquesne Light at 1-888-393-7000 or by visiting www.duquesnelight.com.
Two city pools that were closed due to the storms remain closed today. Magee is scheduled to reopen Sunday, according to a Citiparks official; an opening date for Schenley has not been set.
First Published August 20, 2011 8:29 am