2011-08-25 / Local & State

Officials To Meet On Preventing Future Pa. Floods

PITTSBURGH (AP) – City and county officials were to meet Monday in western Pennsylvania to try to figure out how to prevent a recurrence of the flash flooding that swamped cars in rushhour traffic, killing two women and two children and forcing other people to clamber onto vehicle roofs or swim to safety.

“We’ll sit down and brainstorm, without pointing fingers and casting blame and see if we can come up with some solution,’’ said Tom Palmosina, co-director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority about the meeting with officials of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority.

“We have to do something,’’ Palmosina told the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, adding that in more than 31/2 decades in the agency he had never seen anything like the floods that struck Friday afternoon.

After storms dumped 3 to 4 inches of rain on the city, the water drained on a main thoroughfare near the Allegheny River on the city’s east side, overwhelming 9- foot sewer pipes and displacing manhole covers. A mother and her two daughters died after rising waters trapped them in their vehicle and then pinned it to a tree. Another woman was washed into the river, where her body was found Saturday morning.

Kimberly Griffith, 45, of Plum and her daughters, Brenna, 12, and Mikaela, 8, all drowned in their submerged vehicle, the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office said Sunday. Mary Saflin, 72, of Oakmont died of bluntforce trauma to the head and trunk with fresh water submersion.

“She was being swept away and ran into obstructions,’’ forensic investigator Edward Carnegie said. All four deaths were ruled accidental.

Officials said the flood, and a similar event July 18, happened when millions of gallons of water overwhelmed the storm water system.

“It’s a well-designed system, but we have to look if it’s designed for this amount of water,’’ Pittsburgh City Councilman Patrick Dowd told the Pittsburgh Tribune- Review.

Geography is part of the problem, since the boulevard is in the basin of a large watershed that the National Weather Service said covers about 2.4 square miles and gets runoff from surrounding neighborhoods, Dowd said.

“There are just massive amounts of storm water in that area,’’ said Dowd, who sits on the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board. “It’s a bowl.’’

In 1998, a thunderstorm accompanied by a tornado that struck Mount Washington touched off worse flooding in the area, though no deaths resulted, and made a two-mile swath look like it was part of the river. In June 2009, the roadway had to be closed due to storm-washed debris, and 1.87 inches of rain falling in about a half-hour on July 18 also trapped motorists and caused a section of the road to buckle.

Dowd said he hopes that efforts to prevent a recurrence could be aided by information gathered during the storm, including how much water was sent through the system. Dowd also said emergency officials need to find better ways to alert motorists of flooding, since many said they had no warning until water suddenly began rising around vehicles stopped in rush-hour traffic.

“There’s a lot to be looked at and thought about, but we don’t want to just make a knee-jerk reaction,’’ he said.

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