ICS Magazine

Ivan's receding waters leave mud and damage

September 21, 2004
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Sept. 20 - (AP) - Floodwaters receded steadily across a wide portion of Pennsylvania on Monday but left behind a layer of filth and mud that homeowners and officials had to slog through as damage assessments began in earnest.

T he remnants of Hurricane Ivan dropped as much as 7.9 inches of rain on the state Friday and Saturday, and spawned F-1 tornadoes in Bedford and Franklin counties late Friday and early Saturday, the National Weather Service said after examining damage to trees and crops on Monday.

Under clear skies Monday, many state residents affected by the storm turned their attention to cleaning the mess Ivan left behind.

Hundreds of service calls came in to River City Restoration in the Pittsburgh suburb of Springdale, said Jan Walter, a spokeswoman for the company that specializes in cleaning up after disasters.

"Now that people finally have their phones back on and their power back on, now they're out looking for whatever help they can get," Walter said. "There's a lot of people that are really in a panic about all of this."

Penn National Insurance said nearly 250 customers contacted it with claims by early Monday morning. The biggest claim was from Unis Automotive Sales in Aliquippa, where hurricanes Frances and Ivan ruined more than 100 vehicles in just over a week.

"We're averaging about $23,000 a car - so it's simple math," said Bill Hamrick, director of the Harrisburg-based insurer's property division.

President Bush declared 19 counties eligible for federal disaster aid, but that number could increase after more complete damage reports are available. A figure on total statewide damage may take some time, said Kate Philips, spokeswoman for Gov. Ed Rendell.

Among the 47 counties that sustained some damage was Columbia County in the north-central part of the state. Jim Cunningham, spokesman for the county's emergency department, said the Susquehanna River crested at just over 27 feet, or 8 feet above flood stage, and all major roads around Bloomsburg were closed at some point.

Officials evacuated 225 homes and several campgrounds, the Bloomsburg sewage-treatment plant ceased operations and the fairgrounds was inundated just as concessioners arrived to prepare for the 150th Bloomsburg Fair. The fair, however, is expected to open Saturday on schedule.

The American Red Cross opened 43 shelters across the state to house 700 evacuees. By Monday, it had begun the cleanup phase, sending out teams to assess future needs, said Angie Dearolf, spokeswoman for the Susquehanna Valley chapter.

"Buckets, mops, cleaning agents, meals - whatever's needed," Dearolf said.

More than 100,000 residents around Harrisburg were ordered to boil drinking water, and the Red Cross and Dauphin County officials distributed thousands of gallons of spring water.

State officials cautioned those returning to flood-damaged homes to watch for utility lines and refrain from pumping out basements until the surrounding ground dries out.

People should also sterilize anything in contact with floodwaters and avoid contact with the water when cleaning up. Severe flooding often inundates sewage-treatment plants, and it's likely that the brown floodwaters contain some measure of human waste from upstream, officials said.

"Make sure you're wearing gloves when you clean up, make sure you're wearing some kind of boots, something to keep the material away from your skin," said Health Department spokesman Richard McGarvey.