ETNA, Pa. — Rescuers searching muddy river banks for victims of flash floods triggered by fierce thunderstorms found four bodies Saturday, bringing to eight the number killed by the high water. At least 10 others were reported missing.
Gov. Dick Thornburgh declared 10 communities in western Pennsylvania disaster areas from the Friday evening storms, and the National Guard was ordered in to help in the cleanup, said John Comey, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Damage Put at $20 Million
A preliminary estimate put the damage from the flash flooding along Pine Creek and Little Pine Creek at about $20 million.
About 3,500 firefighters, police and maintenance workers helped in the rescue and cleanup, using tow trucks, hand tools and water hoses to pull cars and other wreckage from yards bordering the two tributaries of the Allegheny River.
Orlando DeBaldo, owner of a gas station and garden shop in Indiana Township, said that floodwaters reached six feet deep outside his building.
"All at once the creek started backing up," DeBaldo said. "It was so fast we couldn't get from one building to the next. Things were floating around like gum balls in a swimming pool."
"There were vans going by, and cars were floating everywhere. It looked like a highway out there," said Eric Tvaruzec, 23, describing the scene behind his house.
About two dozen people were treated at hospitals for minor injuries and released.
"We can't even begin to estimate the damage," Etna Police Chief Ronald C. Harris said. "There's seven to eight streets that we haven't gotten into to take a look. It's a disaster, no question about it."
Comey said it would take state and Allegheny County officials several days to assess the damage in the 10 communities that were affected.
The storms interrupted telephone, electric and gas service in the area and in other scattered regions of southwestern Pennsylvania. In some areas, firefighters shut off gas lines for fear of explosions and fire. Workers were in the process of restoring service Saturday.
The National Weather Service estimated that up to four inches of rain from slow-moving thunderstorms may have fallen in the communities of Etna, Fox Chapel and Millvale, and in Shaler, Indiana, Hampton and O'Hara townships in one hour.
Meteorologist Theresa Rossi said 3.9 inches of rain were recorded in Harmarville, about two miles from the flood area.
"The devastation goes on for blocks," said Jim Agostinelli, a helicopter pilot who brought two of the injured to Pittsburgh's Allegheny General Hospital. "Hundreds of cars are tossed all over the place, some in the water with their lights still on."
Most of the dead were found along Little Pine Creek and Saxonburg Boulevard, which parallels the stream in adjacent O'Hara and Shaler townships. Authorities said most victims' identification was lost in the raging water.