BRIDGEVILLE — Even as all hell was breaking out, Teresa Davis vividly recalls how the rising water that was inundating the kennel she operates on Baldwin Street in Bridgeville was strangely tranquil.
“It was very calm, still and black,” Davis said.
Until the evening on June 20, 2018, it had been a fairly routine day for Davis. A Wednesday, she had returned to her home in Upper St. Clair from the Canine Club when a call came that Baldwin Street was being overrun with water. All-day rain, capped by an almighty deluge shortly after 8 p.m., had caused nearby McLaughlin Run Creek to overflow. It caused water to spill into the street and the businesses and residences that line it. What Davis describes as “a tsunami” came roaring down Baldwin and slammed into the Canine Club. While 10 dogs that were being boarded at the Canine Club were rescued, five drowned in water that rose as high as eight feet.
Those dogs were not the only casualties from flooding one year ago today that devastated parts of the South Hills. A 63-year-old Upper St. Clair woman was killed when she ventured out of her car, and was swept away by floodwaters. Her body was found the next day in Bridgeville. An Outback Steakhouse restaurant on McMurray Road in Upper St. Clair was destroyed, vehicles were lost, and scores of homes and residences sustained damage that is still being repaired 12 months later.
Meanwhile, officials have absorbed lessons from the flood and are trying to take steps to make sure another summer day where a couple of inches of rain falls in a couple of hours doesn’t wreak as much havoc.
Bethel Park is expanding its view of stormwater, according to Timothy Moury, a councilman in the borough. Council is “looking further up the watershed and (has) identified six possible projects,” he said via email. Moury added that council will be awarding contracts for three of the projects at its July meeting, and is in the design phase for additional projects in 2020. The borough is also scrutinizing its roads and streets to make sure they can adequately handle any future downpours.
“When you get nearly four inches of rain in less than one hour, it’s almost impossible to predict where the water will go,” Moury said. “We had homes get water that had never had any issues in the past on June 20, 2018.”
In the meantime, some houses on Bridgeville’s Baldwin Street remain empty, while some businesses have reopened. Davis is hoping that the Canine Club will be welcoming dogs again in the next few weeks. And Bridgeville officials are hoping to get grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to purchase homes and businesses from willing sellers on Baldwin Street, tear down the properties, and convert them to green space.
Buildings would be sold at their pre-flood values under the proposal, with FEMA paying 80 percent of the purchase price, and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency covering the remaining 20 percent. Bridgeville is also looking at doing away with the baseball field in McLaughlin Run Park and making it a retention pond.
Mike Tolmer, the president of Bridgeville Borough Council, said his community is working with its neighbors to try to come up with long-term solutions to flooding woes.
“The landscape of our area has changed drastically,” Tolmer explained. “Weather is changing, there are more severe storms. ... It’s all of us. What can we do together to solve the problem?”