ZELIENOPLE — Dozens of calls went out Monday to area responders as wind-driven heavy rains toppled trees, downed wires, flooded basements and closed streets in locations around Butler County, leaving for a busy day of cleanup Tuesday.
Zelienople was hit the hardest, according to fire officials and the National Weather Service.
The borough withstood punishment from power outages and downed wires to flooding in residences and businesses.
In Cranberry, firefighters prepared to send backup to Harmony and Zelienople after getting their coverage area squared away.
“We're going to be sending a squad up with trash pumps to stand by Harmony station, because Zelienople got it worst,” said Cranberry Fire Chief Dave Mack. “They had like a foot and a half of water running through the streets, and now the basements are filling up … It's a mess. Zelie really got hit hard.”
Before they left, the department removed trees and wires from township roads and responded to a vehicle accident and automated alarms around the township.
Calls from residents in distress in and around the borough began flooding in at around 6:30 p.m. as emergency responders worked to clear roads and pump water from flooded areas and basements.
“(We got) 16 calls,” Harmony Fire District deputy Fire Chief Rob Reeb said Monday evening. “And those vary: wires down, trees down, flooded basement.”
A few of the calls were for utility poles and power transformers on fire, ignited by searing bolts of lightning. Later, a dozen or more calls were from residents looking for help with flooding.
Mary Hess, the owner of the Spring Street Cafe, 203 Main St., saw at least 3 feet of water in her basement.
“The whole lower level is underwater,” Hess said. “It's not going to be pretty.”
Hess said the flooding ruined her products, furniture and machines that she had stored in the basement.
The water collected and pooled, extending outside to the back of the building where the alley slopes into a garage door entrance to the basement shared between the cafe, One Enchanted Evening bridal store and an apartment building.
Hess said it will take her a month to remove the destroyed items and clean up the muck left behind.
Bob Householder, a resident of 209 S. Main St., said he had about 1 foot of water in his basement.
“There's a lot of damage, but there's nothing I can do about it,” Householder said. “I'm not worried about me as much as I am about the residents.”
Householder said there is a nearby stream that overflows due to being part of the I-79 watershed.
“All this water arrived from the stream around the corner,” he said.
Householder said he's seen a few different floods hit the area, and deemed it a problematic area. He said this was the worst. “I never saw anything like this,” Householder said.
Kim Bour, manager at One Enchanted Evening, said the construction on Main Street could also be part of the problem, creating new problems for drainage.
She said the store has never seen flooding like this. Bour said the owner of the bridal store was doing paperwork when the water started to come into the building.
“The water was like a typhoon,” she said. Bour said there were some dresses that were ruined by the water, but the store already called in a restoration team Monday night.
“We'll be fine; it's just a shame,” she said.
At around 8 p.m., as quickly as it came, the water receded.
“It came quickly and it's gone quick,” Reeb said.
Responders continued to work pumping water from area basements and repairing power lines in the aftermath. Between 1.5 inches and 2.5 inches of rain fell on southwestern Butler County in a little over an hour's time on Monday evening, said meteorologist Myranda Fullerton at the National Weather Service's Pittsburgh regional office in Coraopolis.
On Tuesday, the signs of flooding and heavy rain were still visible. Many businesses were closed, while workers at those that were open, including the WesBanco branch on South Main Street in the borough, were seen cleaning up debris on the sidewalks.
A few streets away on South High Street — where several reports of basement flooding were made Monday — mud caked a portion of the road, while crews on East Beaver Street were seen trimming trees away from power lines.
Pete Lachelli was one of the High Street residents to experience the flood. “(My) basement flooded. Almost everybody's basement flooded,” he said. “I haven't seen it like this since I was kid, and I was born and raised here.”
Lachelli said he had about a foot and a half of water in his basement before they had the chance to drain it. “We sucked it all up (Tuesday) and now we have to bleach it,” he said. “Lot of tools are down there, pictures, Christmas stuff, clothes.”
According to a post on the borough's Facebook page, Zelienople is taking steps to mitigate future flooding by targeting certain areas.
“We recognize where the floodwaters originated and have plans to do stormwater retention ponds near Interstate 79 above the pool to assist in this situation,” according to the item. “The construction has been set to begin late summer early fall.”
The post indicates township officials would contact homeowners from the park to Main Street to request help in removing debris and allow for water to flow more freely. Storm drops were expected to be cleaned Tuesday, and the street sweeper was to be run, according to the post.
The borough thanked emergency responders for all their hard work and residents for doing their part and being patient as firefighters, police and road crews worked to restore power and traffic flow.
“Thank you as well for being so wonderful. You are why Zelie is such a great place to live,” the post read. “This is a time when people make a difference. ”
According to information from the Harmony Fire District, 35 members — half of the district's active roster — responded to 49 calls for service from 5:30 p.m. until just after midnight.
“I think it went fairly well. We had a very impressive turnout from our membership,” Harmony Fire Chief Scott Garing said Tuesday morning. “We also called in our mutual aid from the SAFER group and Franklin Township, Portersville and Wurtemburg and Perry.”
This help, he said, was invaluable in addressing resident concerns quickly and effectively. “Everything's been taken care of emergency wise,” Garing said.
Many of Monday night's calls were the result of torrents of water running through the streets and into basements. Others were for wires and trees falling in the area.
“The biggest problem we had was the power went out, and when the power went out the sump pumps stopped working,” Garing said. “So that caused a lot of issues. Not all of them, but a lot of them.”
With the water receded and roads cleared Tuesday afternoon, the borough, as well as the Harmony Fire District, had one last thing to do before calling it a day.
“We had our trucks in paradelike condition,” Garing said. “Now all 10 of them are not in paradelike condition.”
J.W. Johnson Jr., Cranberry bureau chief, contributed to this report.