Cleaning up and drying off after big rainfall

Posted: May 05, 2014

WEST NORRITON TWP. The wood-paneled home at 10 Indian Lane fronting the Schuylkill in West Norriton Township is dwarfed by its neighbors.

For more than three decades, owner Lila Frost has lived through nearly a dozen storms that caused the river to swell and lap into houses on her street.

Over the years, one-by-one, she has seen construction crews arrive to elevate her neighbors' homes, creating concrete garages at the ground level and flood-proof living spaces. All the while, Frost has taken her chances and held her lower ground.

But even in this flood-jaded neighborhood, neither she nor anyone else quite anticipated what happened last week. A record rainstorm hit with the ferocity of a tropical storm, dumping more than a half-foot of water in some places - more than two months' worth.

That was far more than the banks of the Schuylkill could contain.

The storm "definitely over-performed," said Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service Office in Mount Holly.

In Philadelphia, the 4.42 inches of rain measured Thursday was a calendar-day record for April, and for an entire spring.

Although flood watches were issued as early as Monday afternoon, the rains exceeded the most robust expectations, not only in amounts, but in extent, Szatkowski said.

"The areal coverage was larger than anticipated," he said. In addition, the generally cool spring probably was a factor: The muted foliage wasn't as thirsty as it would be normally this time of year.

On Tuesday morning, the Schuylkill at Norristown was forecast to be at 13.5 feet at 7 a.m. Thursday, a prediction raised to 15.6 feet the following day.

But by 7 a.m. Thursday, the river was at 19.92 feet, having crested at 20.1 feet, well past "major" flood stage, according to weather service data.

The upshot was an all-out sog-a-thon on the banks of the Schuylkill from the Norristown area into Philadelphia, where both the Martin Luther King and Kelly Drives had to be closed.

By week's end, officials across the region were still assessing the impact, but the damage was expected to reach into the millions.

For Frost, this was all something of a personal disaster, and on Friday, her waterlogged photo albums, filled with summer memories of a life on the river, sat on her back deck propped up to dry.

A self-proclaimed hoarder, she had made a New Year's resolution to clean up her house by her 74th birthday in June.

"I wasn't moving fast enough," Frost said. "I believe it was divine intervention."

More than two feet of water rushed into her home, soaking her carpets and furniture, splashing onto her walls and leaving behind boxes of soggy paperwork.

It marked only the third time that Frost's home, on a slightly elevated patch of land, had flooded.

On Friday, every surface was stacked with boxes and clothing that had stayed dry. Her friends arrived to pull back carpeting from the living-room floor and wash layers of mud from the plywood underneath.

Frost doesn't have flood insurance.

Dressed in a sweatshirt, Spandex, a fanny pack, and boots to clean up, Frost still was not upset by the damage.

"This is junk," she said, pointing to the boxes of paperwork and knickknacks drying on her deck.

"You know what? I can't be sad, because I can't change the past," she said. "I don't know what the future brings."


lmccrystal@phillynews.com

610-313-8116 @Lmccrystal

Inquirer staff writer Anthony R. Wood contributed to this report.

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