Flooding forces evacuations in Pa.; 1 local death

PHILADELPHIA - October 1, 2010

A woman fatally plunged into a creek swollen by heavy rains in Montgomery County, state police said Friday. It happened on Stump Hall Road near Kratz Road in Collegeville, Pa. around 6:00 a.m.

According to State Police, a 55-year-old woman from Green Lane died when her Toyota was swept off of Stump Hall Road, near the Skippack Golf Course, and into a tributary of the Perkiomen.

Rescuers couldn't get to her because of the rushing water.

By the time they reached the car, she had drowned inside.

At around 3:00 a.m. Friday, a car with a driver and two passengers was swept off Park Avenue in Schwenksville, Pa. and into the Perkiomen Creek.

"They said they swam out of the windows and made it to safety on the…road," Allan bray of Schwenksville said.

Cars and roads weren't the only things flooded.

Dave Smith had to evacuate his home on Collegeville's West First Avenue in his neighbor's canoe just after 6:00 a.m.

On the other side of the Perkiomen Creek, four-foot construction fencing was barely visible in what was the parking lot of the Collegeville Inn.

It was a sight that attracted plenty of onlookers, including children, who had today off from school.

More than 24 hours of rain and windy weather hammered much of central and eastern Pennsylvania, swelling creeks and rivers over their banks and leaving standing water on some roadways that prompted some school districts to shut down Friday.

Many smaller creeks in the area had already crested and were beginning to fall by midmorning Friday, said Valerie Meola, a meteorologist on duty at the National Weather Service station in Mt. Holly, N.J.

But larger rivers, like the Delaware, Schuylkill and Lehigh, are larger and slower to respond. Parts of the Delaware River might not crest until sometime Saturday, Meola said.

Some of the worst problems were to be in Darby, Pa. where the entire borough was shut down after the Darby Creek swelled over its banks. The only vehicles being allowed in were emergency vehicles.

The Action Cam was live as the fire department used a ladder to create a makeshift bridge across a flooded street to let people escape their homes at around 9:30 a.m.

Chief Robert Smythe said live on 6abc that people were encouraged to leave earlier in the morning, but they did not go. That led to the rescue effort later in the day.

"We tried to do that around 4:00 this morning, when they could have walked out, but they chose not to. They wanted to stay," Smythe said.

There is no official word yet on how many people have been rescued.

Ashley Hewitt recalled how she was notified of the evacuations.

"There was a man yelling in my window on the roof saying 'ma'am, come on, you have to get out now,'" Hewitt said.

As water poured into Main Street basements, it was decided to evacuate residents at the Darby Court Apartments, some by ambulance others by SEPTA bus.

The flash flood waters receded quickly; by lunchtime, crews were cleaning the The MacDade Boulevard Bridge.

Gregory and Dawn Gaymon surveyed the ruins of their mud soaked apartment. They had witnessed the massive flooding back in 1999 due to Hurricane Floyd.

"Honestly, I didn't think this was going to happen again," Gregory said.

By 11:00 a.m., the waters had largely receded from the town.

By Friday night, some streets showed no sign of the flooding waters that once covered them hours earlier.

The Darby Creek flooding also hit the parking lot of an apartment complex in Havertown Township.

Graphic artist Ismail Dibona, 33, said his car was among those caught in the rising waters. Another car was floating on top if it, he said.

"I'm a little frustrated, but what can you do? This is just nature," Dibona said.

In Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River had risen over its banks in the neighborhood of East Falls and upstream in the borough of Conshohocken. Kelly Drive was completely under water at South Ferry Road as the Schuylkill River flooded.

The water there was slowly getting higher as the morning went on.

It finally crested around 2:00 p.m. Friday.

Residents of an apartment complex in Manayunk were forced out of their homes around 10:30 a.m. Friday due to the rising Schuylkill.

The river surged into the building. One resident initially refused to leave. But, he was later persuaded to head to high ground in a boat.

Safety personnel were worried about underground gas and electric utilities.

"I said, 'I'm on the fifth floor, I didn't think the water's coming up here,' didn't realize the urgency of the gas lines and the electricity," resident Jacki Picus said.

Everyone was able to vacate safely, but some will return home to find water logged cars.

Residents were also evacuated from River Road in Shawmont.

Some chose to stay like one woman who kept a nervous eye on the rising water from atop a stone wall.

It was the same on the other River Road on the other side of the river in Lower Merion.

Some residents fled to higher ground, but others chose to stay keeping an eye on their homes as the river inched closer.

At the other end of Manayunk, Main Street was closed between Ridge Pike and Shurs Lane.

The Mad River Bar and Grille was surrounded by a mad river.

They're planning a big event for the weekend and were elated to see the water start to recede around two this afternoon.

Mad River employee Max Tucker said at 7:00 a.m. he and the general manager were unsure of the plans, but as the day progressed they became more optimistic.

"It's been pretty rough and frustrating, but thanks to our staff, we had about 30 or 40 staff members come up last night and bring everything up from the basement all the way upstairs, so they really saved the day," Tucker said.

Richard Vail was stuck in his office, but decided to make a run for it.

His high riding vehicle just barely made it through the flood waters to safety.

"A little heart pounding, but it was okay, but I'm glad I made it. I was going to get wet either way, I just tried and I made it," Vail said.

At the King of Prussia Mall, the lower level food court in The Plaza was closed after that part of the mall flooded. Several inches of muddy water were on the floor between the Sears and JC Penney stores.

Special sweepers were being used to clean up the mess.

School districts in an area stretching from the state's southeastern corner to the Pocono Mountains opened late or closed entirely Friday in response to the storm.

Thousands of customers across the state were without power Friday morning. Peco reported under 10,000 without service in the Philadelphia area on Friday morning, down from about 16,000 overnight. PPL Corp. had a couple thousand outages scattered across the eastern half of the state. Peco spokesman Ben Armstrong said flooded roads are making it hard for work crews to get around.

Gov. Ed Rendell opened the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency's emergency operations center Thursday afternoon in anticipation of flooding problems. He also put the Pennsylvania National Guard on standby for central and eastern Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter opened a pair of emergency shelters and asked residents not to drive unless necessary. He asked residents in flood-prone areas to consider staying with friends or relatives who live on higher ground.

The Associate Press contributed to this report.

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