High water poured through borough streets and into basements last week as residents faced what many called one of the worst storms to hit the area in years.
The rain overwhelmed recently installed stormwater control systems, sending water down Main Street along with debris that clogged tributaries and exacerbated the situation. Rain began last Tuesday afternoon and continued most of the night.
“What happened was we got a tremendous amount of rain that overwhelmed all of our systems,” said borough manager Don Pepe. “It was just an incredible experience. More than I've ever seen.”
By 6:30 p.m., Pepe was watching floodwaters gush down Main Street, and by 9:30 p.m. Mayor Tom Oliverio had declared a state of emergency.
By then Butler County Water Rescue Team 300 was rescuing residents from flooded homes and vehicles, while volunteer fire departments cleared roads of debris and pumped water from basements.
“This is a community that does that for each other,” Pepe said. “I'm proud of that.”
By May 29, rain started up again and crews continued to respond to calls.
Pepe said at that point Connoquenessing Creek became the biggest threat. Water poured over the banks and continued to rise.
“There are some things you can't do,” Pepe said. “I can't fix the Connoquenessing Creek, and right now that's probably more of an issue than anything else.”
A mile down the road, residents in Harmony were also hard at work pumping water out of basements and navigating streets closed due to the flooding.
Wunderbar Coffee and Crepes co-owner Seth Murphy waded through knee-deep water on Mercer Road to tend to his restaurant. The water was less than an inch from spilling through the front door.
The flooding surrounded the business, and water levels showed no signs of dropping. Murphy said there was little they could do until it did.
“We're just waiting for the water to recede,” he said. “This is the worst year I've seen.”
“Can't do anything about the creek if it decides to come visit you,” said Josh Meeder, owner of Center of Harmony. “Nothing you can do when it hits 15 feet.”
By Wednesday, the creek reached 15.34 feet, more than five feet above flood stage, making it the third-highest mark for the creek.
National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Modzelewski said the weather service doesn't do crest forecasting. He said further rain will likely increase the crest, but that coming rain shouldn't be enough to unseat other historic levels.
The highest flood recorded at the creek is an 18.17 foot flood recorded on Sept. 18, 2004, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan.
Meeder said the borough's obsolete drainage system causes more problems for those along Mercer Road.
He said drainage lines redirect floodwater to Mercer Road, where it bursts out of cracked pipes into basements and into the street.
“We spend more time fighting the flooding from the street side than the creek side,” Meeder said.
He said the borough is looking into a solution, but nothing has been finalized. “One idea I did like was to bring a line across the street,” Meeder said.
This would redirect the flooding past the road and businesses.
“We really need the water to get out of this side of town,” he said. In Zelienople, Pepe said the borough was working to keep people informed and ready to respond to any subsequent flooding. He urged residents in flood zones to leave their homes if the water begins to rise.
“If the water is coming up, get out,” Pepe said. “Just get out.”
While no one was hurt, he said, many people experienced catastrophic damage to homes and property.
“This is when people like me feel most unable to do what we want to do,” Pepe said. “You feel hampered because there's not a lot you can do proactively to resolve it. And it hurts. It really does.”
Eagle Staff Writer Tanner Cole contributed to this report.