Torrential rain forces water rescues, damages homes, businesses around Westmoreland
Water rescue crews from Westmoreland, Indiana and Cambria counties were called to rescue people Wednesday afternoon and evening who were stranded by the rising Loyalhanna Creek, which was swollen by heavy rains in eastern Westmoreland County.
Emergency crews rescued residents from about 30 houses in the Boucher Lane area of Ligonier Township, said Ligonier Township Police Chief Michael Matrunics.
Thirteen water rescue teams participated in the rescue operation east of Ligonier, in the area near Ruthies Diner. The rescue operations wrapped up for the evening before midnight.
No injuries were reported, but at least two people were treated for medical conditions, Matrunics said.
The flood damage in the Rector and Ligonier areas was localized and likely not large enough to trigger a disaster declaration, Matrunics said. Several roadways were closed for a period, including Route 381 near Route 30 and Route 259.
The Loyalhanna in Ligonier Township rose from about 1.8 inches of rain Wednesday, plus another 3.45 inches of rain that fell on the Laurel Mountains east of Ligonier, according to the National Weather Service in Moon Township. Rainfall along the mountains feed streams that are tributaries of the Loyalhanna.
“That's where the problem was,” said Shannon Hefferan, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The weather service also extended the flash flood warning for central Washington County and southern Allegheny County until 1:45 a.m. Thursday. The weather service radar indicated heavy rain in the warned area.
A couple trapped on a roof in Cook Township was rescued as well by the Chestnut Ridge Fire Department and a county water rescue team. They responded to the emergency at about 5:15 p.m. along Green Hollow Lane, south of Rector and near Loyalhanna Creek.
“It was coming up, and all of a sudden something just burst and (the water) started coming in everywhere,” said resident Julene Sabolik.
“Once it started, we couldn't get out,” said her husband, Paul Sabolik.
The couple used a ladder on their porch to reach temporary safety on the roof of their single-story home.
Water made it up to the bottom of their windows and rushed under the door.
The couple used a cellphone to call 911, and the water started to recede as the rain stopped.
The couple was unharmed, but their home sustained major damage.
“It took our garage doors and smashed them and blew the whole side of the garage out,” Julene Sabolik said.
The couple's swimming pool and deck also were smashed.
According to members of the Westmoreland County water rescue team, more than a dozen people had been rescued by boats from Boucher Lane homes along the Loyallhana Creek between 7 and 10 p.m. Evacuations were continuing.
Vickie Krouse, who was evacuated from her Boucher Lane house, had about 7 inches of water, which was the “best case scenario” among about 30 homes along that stretch of Loyalhanna Creek.
Local real estate broker Ron Davies and his son, Tyler, 25, and their dog were safely evacuated by boat from their Boucher Lane home at about 9:30 p.m. They were reunited with wife and mom Jamie Davies.
She said the family has been through five floods in about two decades at the home, but this was the first time water had come into the house.
At about 9:50 p.m., a Penn Township Ambulance water rescue team evacuated three children and their two grandparents.
In Derry Township, a torrent of water blew out the basement wall of a house, dumping several feet of water into the home, which township official said left the house unsafe for the family to return.
“I don't know what to do. I've got my deep freezer, new washer floating down there,” said Ron Pauza, as he stood in the flooded backyard of his house at 2218 Raymond Ave.
Derry Township Supervisor Jim Prohaska said about 20 feet of the basement wall of Pauza's house collapsed, leaving the structure unsafe.
Firefighters spent a few hours pumping out the basement of the house, a Unity firefighter said.
Pauza said he was at work in New Stanton when his mother called him in tears about 3 p.m., saying that water was pouring in.
She got out without injury, but Merle Musick, building code official, determined the structure was not sound.
Pauza, along with several neighbors, said they had informed township officials about flooding along a ditch behind their homes and a drainage pipe along the street that clogs.
Prohaska said part of the problem for the township in solving the flooding problem is the ditch is on private property, and there is significant runoff from Route 982.
“It got hammered out here” at about 2:30 p.m., Prohaska said.
“This is the first time it got all of us. I've lived here for 50 years,” said Joette Bollinger, of the 2100 block of Raymond Avenue.
Connie Rupert said she had about 3 feet of water in the basement of her Raymond Avenue home.
The storm also caused flooding along the Lincoln Road Shopping Center, where Steve Auto and Truck Repair on Josephine Street suffered extensive damage when water backed up along a stream.
“It's unreal. We lost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” in tools and equipment, said Steve Bly Jr., who owns the shop.
Pulling out drawers of tools that were flooded by water more than 3 feet high in the shop, they lost computers and specialized auto diagnostic equipment.
Bly said that water shot out of the basement drain Wednesday afternoon and water from the stream slammed into the garage door, bursting it open.
A Polaris all-terrain vehicle inside the garage was flooded, as was Bly's Ford F-150 truck parked in the shopping center parking lot.
Bly blamed the flooding on the failure of Latrobe to clean the stream bed. He threatened to take legal action against the city.
Latrobe Fire Chief John Brasile blamed flooding at the Lincoln Road Shopping Center — which damaged at least six businesses — on a wooden footbridge that had floated down from nearby Derry Township and blocked three large pipes that would have carried the runoff under the shopping center.
The bridge blocked the distribution pipes and water shot up above a 4-feet chain link fence, Brasile said.