Flooding swamps area
Torrential rains dump on Blair; damage homes, overpower storm sewer drains
A torrential downpour Thursday morning created a frenzy of flooding, downed trees and damaged power lines across Blair County.
While numerous cases of damage have already been reported, officials continue to assess the impact of the storm.
“We are still getting situation reports from our other EMA coordinators,” Blair County Emergency Management Executive Director Mark Taylor said. “We have one municipality (Logan Township) showing a few cases of major damage, and the rest are all smaller cases.”
Flooding began about 6 a.m. Thursday as the result of more than 3 inches of rainfall in just one hour, Taylor said.
Sewer drains in the city couldn’t keep up with the large volume of rainfall, Altoona Mayor Matthew Pacifico said, resulting in numerous streets and homes flooding.
“With the amount of rain that came down, and as fast as it came down, it was too much for our system to handle,” Pacifico said. “We do have aging storm sewer systems, but I’m not sure any amount of infrastructure could have stopped the huge surge of water that came through this morning.”
As a result, homeowners countywide had varied levels of damage.
One home in Logan Township received major damage. The foundation of a residence on Ivyside Estates Lane partially collapsed, but no injuries were reported, Logan Township Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Blake said.
On Boyles Lane, near Juniata Gap Road, Blake said a Penelec utility pole near a stream fell and damaged a private bridge.
The majority of reported damage was from flooded basements.
“There are numerous people throughout the area that have flooded basements,” Blake said. “Firefighters have been out all day pumping people’s basements out.”
Concerns were raised over the status of the Lakemont Park Dam, which faced severe flooding in the early hours.
Water from the lake flowed for a short time over the top of the dam, creating a situation for which the dam wasn’t designed — but without causing visible erosion, bulging or damage, Blake said.
The water was flowing 6 to 12 inches deep about 8 a.m. in multiple places, according to Blake, who received reports from county officials and township firefighters.
With water flowing over the top of the dam, EMA said an evacuation of the area was possible.
“The torrential downpour quickly turned into flash flooding,” Taylor said. “That caused the dam to overflow. It was putting a lot of water into the residents’ homes on the lower side of the dam.”
Blair County officials worked on scene for much of the morning, and officials that were on scene said the dam was stabilized by noon.
Crews finally cleared the scene at 2 p.m. after the water had receded, and Taylor said no evacuations were necessary.
“It was discovered and acted on immediately,” Blake said. “There’s no threat at this point.”
County officials increased the opening of the dam gates to reduce the level of the lake, and the rain helpfully slowed up, Blake said.
The lake overtopped the dam, which is capped with an asphalt road, because “there was more water than the spillway could handle” after about 3 inches of rain, Blake said.
Everyone at the scene agreed the problem wasn’t caused by the recent dredging of the lake or by an excessive amount of debris obstructing the spillway, Blake said.
In Altoona, residents on 21st Avenue said they woke up to many of their cars nearly submerged in water in addition to flooding in their basements, and many lost their transportation to work.
The majority of vehicles were disabled and towed later in the morning,
In Bedford County, Emergency Management Director David Cubbison said all was calm, despite receiving some precipitation.
Blair officials said they do not believe any of the damage will satisfy state thresholds for reimbursement; however, Pacifico said he is investigating whether the damage could be eligible for funding through the American Rescue Plan.
The majority of flooding is contained for now, but officials warn the storm has not yet settled as further precipitation is expected for today.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation,” Taylor said. “We urge residents to be cautious, and do not drive through any flooded roadways under any circumstance.”
Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535. Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler contributed to this report.