PA faces flood recovery

More than 450 PA homes were destroyed.

BY HEATHER MOYER | PITTSBURGH, Penn. | September 27, 2004



"Our biggest task this week is trying to locate all the small but hard hit areas."

—Rev. Rick Nelson


More than 450 homes were destroyed and another 600 sustained major damage across Pennsylvania last weekend after Tropical Ivan dumped nine inches of rain.

The Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas were hardest hit, but thousands of others across the state were affected as rain-swollen rivers and creeks flooded their banks. So far, 46 counties have been declared eligible for federal disaster aid.

Emergency officials were still tallying damages on Monday with no word on when more finalized counts will be completed. "In some cases, it's just too early to tell," said Justin Fleming of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA).

Faith-based disaster responders are active, with most focusing their efforts on the Pittsburgh region. Responders are also very concerned about smaller towns with severe damage that may go unnoticed by relief groups.

Dan Moser, disaster response coordinator for the Southeast Penn. Conference of the United Church of Christ, said he received a couple requests for health kits and flood buckets so far, but expected more after hearing about how much rain fell in some areas. "I even had some flooding in my basement. We got about six inches of rain in a very short time."

The Pennsylvania Disaster Relief Team of the American Baptist Men is sending its mobile relief trailer to McKees Rocks, a small town just west of Pittsburgh. The trailer is full of tools for their volunteers, and can even sleep six. "We also have two churches in the Pittsburgh area that were flooded," said Robert Swan, coordinator for the Penn. American Baptist Men team.

Once the work in the McKees Rocks area is finished, Swan said the team will head over to Apollo - a town 32 miles east of Pittsburgh.

As for eastern Penn., where Swan and the trailer are based, the flooding situation is not serious enough to warrant too many concerns from him. "We have a few churches helping out their own, but they're not the ones I'm worried about."

Adventist Community Services (ACS) is focusing its efforts on western Penn., with Bridgeville being the center of its recovery operations. Bruce Atchison, disaster coordinator for ACS in Penn., said he is fortunate to have connected with a very proactive community there. "They already secured an abandoned JC Penney store for our distribution center," he explained. "We're very thankful for that, it's kind of a mini-warehouse"

The distribution center staff will be busy sorting donations this weekend so residents can have access to the food and supplies as soon as possible. ACS is busy doing mobile supply distribution in cooperation with Allegheny County officials as well.

"There are about 60 municipalities affected in this area, so you can imagine the demand," said Nelson of why ACS chose Bridgeville as its focus. "Our workers came across an entire street of senior citizens yesterday that was closed off due to flooding. They hadn't had food in two days. Thank God we found them."

Atchison added that he knows ACS will be in the area for a while. "This will be a long-term issue, no doubt about that."

Relief workers from the United Methodist Church are also currently checking on neighborhoods around Pittsburgh.

"Our biggest task this week is trying to locate all the small but hard hit areas," said Rev. Rick Nelson, disaster response coordinator for the Western Penn. Conference of the United Methodist Church. "It's very difficult, there are so many little communities along the rivers."

Relief workers and parishioners are also staffing food and supply stations at Methodist churches in Carnegie and Millvale. This weekend, work groups will be on hand to help with debris removal and cleanup.

On Monday, the conference will gather to regroup, reassess, and send out a conference-wide appeal for funds and supplies. "This (situation) is large enough to have me getting many others to help out," added Nelson. "I'm hoping to map out areas of need more this weekend to get more of a grasp on things."

Assessments across the central region of the state are still a challenge right now, added Don Inscho, disaster response coordinator for the Central Penn. Conference of the United Methodist Church "We're doing our best to coordinate with other response groups right now and collect the data that we can. But it's difficult right now."

Inscho said hard hit regions he has been informed of include parts of Altoona, Bedford, Huntington, and parts of northern York County. In north central Penn., Williamsport and Muncy received flood damage as well. A Newport trailer park was washed out by rising waters, too, he said.

The United Methodist warehouse in central Penn. has been distributing flood buckets and tons of cleaning supplies across the region. "We're also trying to get work groups together for the weekend to help with cleanup," he added.


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