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Allison spawns tragedy in Mid-Atlantic

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE, MD | June 18, 2001

In a scene one disaster response official called "eerily reminiscent of Grand Forks," a tragic fire raged at a Philadelphia apartment building Sunday while floodwaters rose around it.

As the Philadelphia suburbs saw nine inches of rain in less than 12 hours, at least four people were killed Sunday and several were still missing Monday after floodwaters triggered an explosion and fire at the Village Green apartment complex in the Upper Moreland Township of Montgomery County.

Firefighters were able to rescue more than 30 people from the blaze before fire-fighting efforts had to be suspended because of rising floodwaters. ,Firefighters were still searching Monday for people trapped in the complex.

"It was very similar in many respects to Grand Forks," said Marko Bourne,

public information officer for Pennsylvania emergency management. Bourne

was referring to the great Midwest floods of 1997 in which the North Dakota

town of Grand Forks, surrounded by floodwaters, subsequently burned.

The rest of the Philadelphia suburbs didn't fare well either, according to

Bourne, who said that assessment teams had already identified more than 600

structures -- homes, businesses, apartment complexes -- affected by Sunday's

flooding. That figure is likely to grow, he added.

Though downtown Philadelphia escaped severe damage, surrounding

Montgomery, Bucks, and Delaware counties didn't, said Bourne.

"Montgomery County was hardest hit," he said.

Bourne joined other disaster response officials in commenting on the intensity

of the remnants of Tropical Storm Allison. "The storm created a super-cell that

sat over a 10-square-mile area and just overwhelmed everything."

Some Philadelphia-area homes that were flooded were not in floodplains, he

said, but "many were in the same areas that had been hit during Hurricane

Floyd and, before that, by flooding in 1996."

Damage would have been far worse, he added, if hundreds of residents had

not elected to participate in a buyout program through which they relocated

to flood-safe areas after Hurricane Floyd.

Flooding also hit eastern North Carolina, particularly the town of Speed,

where residents voluntary evacuated as floodwaters filled the streets over

the weekend. Many residents in that town -- and many other communities --

are still trying to recover from Hurricane Floyd. The flooding in Speed was

caused by heavy rain and by a dike that has been broken since Floyd hit.

On Monday the water had receded, said Tom Ditt, public information officer

for North Carolina emergency management, who commented on Allison's

tendency to move slowly and staff over one area, dumping rain. "She'd come

through and stop over one section and pour rain, then move on to another,

stall and pour more water."

This was the most intense rain many in eastern North Carolina had seen since

Floyd hit, said Ditt. "It scared a lot of people." About 500 people were without

power Sunday but power was restored by Monday morning.

A buyout has been proposed for the town of Speed since Floyd hit, added

Ditt. "Some people are taking it, some aren't. I bet this last storm will motivate

a lot of them to go ahead and take it."

Speed has a population that has a high percentage of elderly people, he said.

"They can't afford to go anywhere else when flooding hits."

With the buyout, funds will be provided to relocate residents into comparable

housing in a flood-safe location.

Before moving through the mid-Atlantic, Tropical Storm Allison -- or her

remnants -- has affected more than 20,000 homes in Texas alone, and some

2,100 in Louisiana.

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