HYNDMAN - The order came after dark Monday: With Wills Creek rising and Hyndman's levee at risk, there was no choice but to evacuate the low-lying neighborhood "below the tracks."
Firefighters and emergency workers rousted families from their creekside homes as rushing water approached the concrete barriers along River Lane.
"Somebody said it was mandatory, that everybody had to leave Hyndman," Paige Merkel recalled Tuesday as she served lunch at the Hornet's Nest restaurant.
A CSX train roared past along the tracks that separated Monday's required evacuation zone from the borough's safer areas.
It was indeed a mandatory evacuation - at least for a short time. Hyndman's order, like others throughout the region, was well-intentioned but legally unenforceable, the product of legitimate concerns amid rumor and panic.
"The governor is the only person who can issue a mandatory evacuation order that is enforceable," Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Ruth Miller said Tuesday. "Having the authority to issue the evacuation order and the authority to compel it are two different things."
By Monday night, some locals said, rumors were spreading that the Hyndman levee had broken, that water was already rushing into town. They were wrong, but emergency responders in Hyndman weren't taking any chances.
"[The water] was incredibly high, a fast rise," Mayor Travis Leap said.
The creek had reached 6 feet - a dangerous level with the soil saturated and rain still falling - and the borough's levee, installed in 2009, couldn't be guaranteed to keep floodwater from the creekside neighborhoods.
"The evacuation went well. ... We initially called it 'mandatory' because of the severity of the situation," Leap said.
By Monday night, Bedford County Emergency Management Director Dave Cubbison said everyone living east of the railroad tracks had to leave, while those west of the tracks were advised to fall back as needed. Dozens sought shelter in relatives' homes and at a trio of temporary facilities surrounding the borough.
But in a televised phone interview later that night, Leap no longer called the evacuations "mandatory" - they were just strongly advised.
"Luckily, nothing happened," he said Tuesday.
The 4-year-old levee had saved the town, Hornet's Nest owner Bob Merkel said.
Hyndman wasn't the only municipality to issue commands in the midst of flood fears. In West St. Clair Township, officials briefly ordered all nonemergency personnel off roads, Cubbison said. While local authorities often close individual roads, mass preemptive closures have less legal precedent.
"There was a little miscommunication of information," Cubbison said of the West St. Clair Township closures.
And on Monday afternoon, long before then-Hurricane Sandy's winds began battering central Pennsylvania, Logan Township Police Chief Ron Heller noted that Gov. Tom Corbett's declared state of emergency could authorize local road shutdowns for "nonessential" motorists.
The most famous non-essential traffic ban in Pennsylvania, ordered during the blizzard of January 1996, led to complaints from newspapers and businesses - but unlike local closures and evacuations, it was carried out on the governor's legally binding authority.
"A city mayor can say 'I want everyone to leave,'" Miller said, "but the mayor does not have the authority to go in and ... remove anyone from their home."
Still, Bob Merkel said at his restaurant as Wills Creek roared a few blocks away, few would fault Leap for an evacuation order.