A flash, then a flood
A soaked Cooper Hawk perches on a guide rail on SR309 in Snyders.
It only took 20 minutes Thursday morning for a flash flood to paralyze parts of West Penn Township.
Water levels of both Lizard and Mahoning Creek and other connected waterways rose about three feet, causing major flooding and limiting travelways throughout West Penn and Mahanoy Townships for most of the day.
"I've never seen anything like this, it happened so fast." said Ingrid Debellas, of 1904 West Penn Pike (SR309).
Both Lizard and Mahoning Creeks overflowed their banks and closed most intersecting roads.
Prior to the flash flood, West Penn and Mahoning Township only experienced heavy rains, high water levels and few road closures. That made it even more strange for residents to understand why so much water came in such a short period of time.
Flash flooding occurs when precipitation falls too quickly on saturated soil or dry soil that has poor absorption ability. The runoff collects in low-lying areas and rapidly flows downhill.
Flash floods most often occur in normally dry areas that have recently received precipitation, but may be seen anywhere downstream from the source of the precipitation, even many miles from the source.
In areas on or near volcanoes, flash floods have also occurred after eruptions, when glaciers have been melted by the intense heat.
Flash floods are known to occur in the highest mountain ranges of the United States and are also common in the arid plains of the southwestern United States.
Flash flooding can also be caused by extensive rainfall released by hurricanes and other tropical storms, as well as the sudden thawing effect of ice dams.
Human activities can also cause flash floods to occur.
Debellas, who received help from firefighters and neighbors, had to use a bucket to remove water from her flooded basement. She has lived in West Penn with her husband, Donald, since the 1970s.
"I had never seen anything this bad," she said, pointing out that this is worse than when Hurricane Agnes hit in 1972.
The fast moving water also caused damage to a number of bridges and roadways.
The Berry Road bridge was closed as waters ripped down attached guide rails and tore up the roadway.
Even though West Penn Elementary School had early dismissal, school bus drivers found it hard to drop students off. Some students had to remain at the school.
"The water has never been this high," said Bill and Diane Hartung, of 2 Walnut Lane. They expressed their concern while the water level continued to rise.
Neighbors said water acted like a river as it rose about a foot over the Dorset Road Bridge in New Ringgold.
Rick Kunkel, of Miller Burial Vault Company, said that his vaults, which weigh more than a 1,000 pounds were carried away a short distance.
Floyd Leibensperger, of Dorset Road, who had his cars covered with water, stated, "The water level reached the top of my front seat."
Family members, friends, fire companies and neighbors spent all day yesterday pumping out basements and removing soaked debris.
Local and state police were also seen making sure no one crossed the barricaded roads.
Most smaller waterways drained much faster than larger ones.
Joe Hoherchak, of Dorset Road, New Ringgold, pointed out that water levels of a creek on Dorset Road went away as fast as they came.
As of this morning, some roads that intersect Mahoning and Lizard Creek still remain closed, limiting easy access to many businesses and homes.