Counties, city begin the big cleanup

DeeDee Mann-Witlin clears her back patio of mud near the family's "pet" rhinoceros at her West Indian Lane home in West Norriton. The Schuylkill rose as high as nine feet in some of the neighborhood.
DeeDee Mann-Witlin clears her back patio of mud near the family's "pet" rhinoceros at her West Indian Lane home in West Norriton. The Schuylkill rose as high as nine feet in some of the neighborhood. (RACHEL WISNIEWSKI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 04, 2014

Ryan Houck was at work at Tri-Tech Automotive on Jefferson Avenue in Downingtown when he saw the water approaching from down the street Wednesday. Within minutes, the flood was at his feet.

"I felt like I was on the Titanic," said Houck, 27. "The water started coming in the doors."

Houck and Tri-Tech owner Lee Captis spent Friday the way many residents did who live and work in flood-prone areas around the region: cleaning mud from the walls and floor.

With the water receding and the sun shining - finally - officials and residents were left with assessing the damage from the record-setting rains that swamped the region this week.

Officials said that it was too early to guess how much the cleanup will cost, and that they are looking into applying for federal funds.

Robert Kagel, Chester County's deputy director for emergency management, said it could be weeks before an assessment is complete. But officials said the toll would likely be in the millions of dollars. About 100 homes in Chester County were damaged, along with a handful of roads that will have to be repaired and one or two bridges that need attention.

"They add up pretty quickly," Kagel said.

Chester County was especially hard-hit, with 6.56 inches of rain measured in Spring City by National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Heavener.

Insurance agents in Downingtown said they had already heard from some residents about water damage to their basements. Downingtown Allstate agent Paul Mills said he was fielding calls from people in Honey Brook; Steelville, West Fallowfield Township; and West Chester who said water came through the floors of their basements. Since those areas are not flood-prone, he said, the residents didn't have flood insurance.

Residents along the Schuylkill in West Norriton Township, Montgomery County, spent Friday using fire hoses and squeegees to clear away mud before it dried.

Most homes on flood-friendly West Indian Lane had already been raised with the help of federal grants, leaving only garages on the lower levels. As the area dried out Friday, damp walls still showed the river had risen as high as nine feet.

Floods are part of life along the river, but residents said the water came much faster than they have come to expect. On Tuesday morning, the forecast called for the river at Norristown to be at 13.5 feet at 7 a.m. Thursday, the actual level was 19.92 feet, after cresting at 20.1, well past the "major" flood level.

Rainfall exceeded even the most robust forecasts, and covered a wider area than expected, meteorologists said. Officially, the 4.42 inches that was measured in Philadelphia on Thursday was a record for any calendar day in spring.

Peter Bostock said he knew this storm was different when he watched the water rise "about a foot in a minute" Wednesday evening.

His West Indian Lane property includes two buildings - one is a social area for his friends who come to water ski, and is not above ground level. Standing amid broken picture frames, muddy table tennis paddles, and dirt-filled martini glasses Friday afternoon, Bostock said it was "part of the cost of having a waterfront property."

The force of the water broke his windows and turned his refrigerator upside down. His damaged items will remain in boxes in the driveway until the insurance company arrives.

At Riverview Landing apartments in West Norriton, where residents were evacuated via small boats Thursday, fans hummed from stairwells Friday, while tow trucks removed damaged cars from parking garages. The Schuylkill swelled into cars and lower-level garages overnight, but did not reach the apartments.

In Delaware County, officials reported 25 water rescues during the rain. Residents and business owners experienced flooding in flood-prone areas of Chester and Darby Borough.

Most Philadelphia roads were open Friday, and crews expected to complete cleanup by the end of the day.

Though Kelly Drive was reopened Friday, Sunday's Philadelphia City Championship Regatta was postponed to May 18 due to flood-related damage at the event site.

In Manayunk, the lake that flooded Main Street was gone by Friday, said Jane Lipton, executive director of the neighborhood business association.

"The street is open," she said. "A little muddy in some spots, but it's open. We're getting back to normal."

The flooding shut down most of the street, submerging vehicles and dumping several feet of water and mud into the lower levels of some buildings. On Friday, a handful of local businesses were still pumping out water and cleaning off silt and debris.

"This was a bad one," Lipton said.

The bulk of the rain's impact on Bucks County involved water rescues, 23 across the county, of stranded motorists who drove into deep-standing water, Bucks County spokesman Chris Edwards said. But the county's main waterways, the Delaware River and the Neshaminy Creek, left little if any damage.

"All in all, I think we made it out OK," Edwards said. "It was a lot of rain, but in terms of damage reports, it was pretty quiet."

The rain swelled the Delaware River by six feet, but the river failed to flood, according to the National Weather Service. The Neshaminy Creek flooded, cresting five feet above flood stage, but it inundated an area in Middletown where most homes already have been elevated along the creek.


 


asteele@phillynews.com

610-313-8113

@AESteele

Inquirer staff writers Ben Finley and Anthony R. Wood contributed to this article.

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