Many evacuated as floodwaters overtake Yough River, tributary communities |
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Stephen Huba
The Sewickley Creek grazes the underside of the deck of the Bell’s Mills covered bridge in Sewickley Township on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. The wood structure, originally constructed in 1850, is the only covered bridge in Westmoreland County and connects South Huntingdon and Sewickley townships.

Small communities up and down the Youghiogheny River and its tributaries got a rude awakening Monday morning from flooding that forced dozens of people from their homes.

After three days of near-constant rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon, the water had no place to go, causing the Yough River, Sewickley Creek and Little Sewickley Creek to overflow their banks.

The unincorporated village of Lowber, on the banks of Sewickley Creek, took some of the worst punishment from the storm, with about 20 homes having to be evacuated, Sewickley Township Supervisor Joe Kerber said.

At one point Monday, Lowber was virtually blocked off because of road barricades and high water from the river and the two creeks. Rescue boats had to be used to remove some people from their homes.

“When the Yough River backs up, the water of Sewickley Creek has no place to go,” Kerber said, noting that six township roads were closed Monday afternoon.

Kerber said some river rescues were necessary because motorists insisted on driving through road barricades and high water.

Sutersville, West Newton and the tiny community of Gratztown also had dozens of evacuations, but no reported injuries, Sutersville fire Chief Mark Ghion said.

“We tried as best we could to keep up with it with the pumps,” Ghion said, “but (Monday) morning it got to the point where we were pumping through the front door and the river was coming in through the back door.”

Dennis Casoni watched as the flood waters inundated his brother’s business, Casoni’s Garage on First Street in Sutersville, and two of his mother’s rental properties.

“It’s coming up fast,” he said.

“Mother Nature’s being rough,” said his wife, Kathy.

Casoni said he doesn’t remember the Yough River being this high since Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

The river in Sutersville was 6 feet above flood stage at 1:15 p.m. Monday. The National Weather Service said it will be the highest crest since 1996. The river rose 3 feet Monday between 7:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.

Sutersville firefighters closed streets near the river, which clocked in at 26.24 feet in the early afternoon. Flood stage is 20 feet.

Ghion said the weather service informed him the Yough River was expected to crest at 27 feet at 10 p.m. Monday.

Christine Ucman, 78, was one of numerous residents on the river side of Sutersville Road who were forced to evacuate Monday.

“We’re leaving,” she said as two family members helped her gather up clothing and pack it in a car.

“We got almost everything out overnight,” she said.

A pump running non-stop hummed in the background.

West Newton Mayor Mary Popovich said an estimated 15 properties, or 40-45 people, had to be evacuated. Some of the hardest-hit areas in the borough were Rio Vista Street and lower Collinsburg Road. North Water Street also was under water and barricaded.

“Most of the areas have been very close to the river, and it came up rather quickly,” Popovich said. “The Yough really kind of overflowed her banks pretty good this time.”

The Red Cross of Greater Pennsylvania said it was assisting 29 residents of a senior nursing facility in West Newton who had been evacuated due to the flooding.

The latest flooding compares to past flooding events in 1972 and 1996, she said. But the borough is reeling because it just recovered from a flood in February.

“We’re getting flooding in basements and places that don’t usually flood,” Popovich said, noting that 40-50 homeowners reported having water in their basements.

Popovich recommended that people call the mayor’s office at 724-872-3537 or the West Newton Emergency Management Agency hotline at 724-872-4911 to report a water emergency.

Popovich said she updates her Facebook page with the latest closing and shelter information.

“So far, we’ve been able to manage our own emergency fairly well,” she said. “There’s just a lot of factors that we can’t predict right now, but we’re prepared. We have everything in place that we need.”

Paul Hermann, 60, said this is the worst flooding he’s seen in Lowber since he moved into his Mill Street home in 1988.

“My house is unlivable,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Hermann moved everything out of his finished basement Sunday and out of his first floor Monday morning.

“You have pictures and stuff you’ve saved your whole life,” he said.

Hermann said the flooding made him feel “sick,” especially since his basement game room was damaged by another flood in March.

The flooding in Lowber extended well beyond Sewickley Creek. Floodwaters covered the soccer fields of the Yough Youth Soccer Association and the property of the Lowber VFD Club.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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