Governor Wolf Requests Federal Aid for Severe Storms in August
November 02, 2018
Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today sent a letter to the president requesting federal disaster aid for multiple counties to pay for millions of dollars in damages caused by severe storms that brought heavy rainfall and severe flash flooding to parts of Pennsylvania from August 10 to 15, 2018.
“This summer’s historic flooding left citizens and governments struggling to pay to bring things back to the way they were,” Governor Wolf said. “Federal funding is needed in these areas, and we are urging the president to grant this request.”
Included in the request for both Public Assistance and Individual Assistance are Berks, Bradford, Chester, Columbia, Delaware, Lackawanna, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Sullivan, Susquehanna, and Wyoming counties. The governor requested Public Assistance for Bucks, Lycoming, and Tioga counties.
The major disaster declaration through the Federal Emergency Management Agency would provide federal funding to local, county and state governments, as well as certain eligible non-profits in those counties through the Public Assistance program. Applicants can be reimbursed up to 75 percent of the costs incurred on eligible expenses, such as but not limited to: costs associated with paying overtime, repairs to damaged infrastructure, equipment rentals and materials.
In order to request Public Assistance, the commonwealth overall must meet a threshold of $19,053,569. Estimated costs associated with this incident period total nearly $62.8 million. Meeting the threshold and making the request are not a guarantee of funding. It is not known when the President will make a decision to grant or deny disaster assistance.
An Individual Assistance declaration could make available to citizens a variety of programs to assist in their recovery needs. More detailed information is available on the FEMA website.
The governor signed a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency, which is a required step in order to request federal aid, for this storm on August 17.
Letter to President by on Scribd
Letter to President Donald J. Trump:
November 2, 2018
The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Through: Ms. MaryAnn Tierney
FEMA Region III
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Dear Mr. President:
Under the provisions of Section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. § 5170 (Stafford Act), and implemented by 44 CFR § 206.36, I request that you declare a major disaster for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a result of rapid, heavy rainfall and severe flash flooding that impacted Pennsylvania during the period of August 10 through August 15, 2018. I have determined that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the Commonwealth, and that supplementary federal assistance is necessary. I am specifically requesting a major disaster declaration for Individual Assistance (IA) and Public Assistance (PA) for Berks, Bradford, Chester, Columbia, Delaware, Lackawanna, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Sullivan, Susquehanna, and Wyoming counties. Further, I am requesting only Public Assistance for Bucks, Lycoming, and Tioga counties. In addition, I request the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program be made available to all sixty-seven (67) counties of Pennsylvania. I reserve the right to add additional counties and types of assistance to this request, should findings warrant this action.
I. DECLARATION OF DISASTER EMERGENCY
On August 17, 2018, I declared a disaster emergency for all counties of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania due to the rapid, heavy rainfall, and resulting flash flooding (the “storms”) that began to impact the Commonwealth on July 21, 2018 and continued through September 1, 2018. Prior to this declaration, I directed that the Commonwealth’s emergency operations plan be executed, and appropriate response action be taken. Although this request is specific to the August 10 through August 15, 2018, incident period, many of the counties cited in this letter were also impacted by severe storms and flash flooding on July 21 through July 27, 2018, and again on August 31 through September 1, 2018. Although assessed for the potential of a declared event, these two (2) additional events did not exceed the Commonwealth’s threshold, and thus the Commonwealth and affected counties absorbed over $29 million dollars in repair costs to residential and public property.
II. RAPID, HEAVY, AND CONTINUED RAIN WITH SEVERE FLASH FLOODING
As a result of the continuous series of severe storms, during the period of July 21 through September 1, 2018, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported record-breaking rainfall amounts in much of the central and eastern Commonwealth counties. The continuous series of intense storms over this period saturated the soil and maintained some waterways at near bank-full levels. As a result, the significant additional rainfall triggered rapid onset community flooding, and in many cases, this flooding occurred at the same isolated locations over and over again.
WEATHER INFORMATION AUGUST 10-15, 2018
After several weeks of significant and record-breaking rainfall, flash flooding, and river flooding in the Commonwealth, an upper level low moved over the northeastern United States between August 10 through August 15, 2018, producing more heavy rain and severe flooding. The upper low combined with abundant tropical moisture, which led to heavy rainfall in central and eastern Pennsylvania on already oversaturated ground. Several days of torrential rainfall produced five (5) to nearly ten (10) inches of rainfall in less than a week in spots, creating additional severe flooding. In just one (1) day, over four (4) inches of rainfall was recorded at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport in Luzerne County.
|Towanda 1 S||Bradford||9.67″||0.60″||+9.07″|
|Mahanoy City 2 N||Schuylkill||5.47″||0.85″||+4.62″|
|Tamaqua 4 N Dam||Schuylkill||4.33″||0.78″||+3.55″|
|Covington 2 WSW||Tioga||3.17″||–“||–“|
|Tioga Hammond Dam||Tioga||2.47″||0.67″||+1.80″|
|Williamsport Regional Airport||Lycoming||2.36″||0.72″||+1.64″|
Figure 1: Observed rainfall, average rainfall, and departure from average for the period of August 10-15, 2018 in impacted locations across the Commonwealth. These sites recorded up to 16 times the average rainfall for this period on top of significant rainfall during the three weeks leading up to this event. Source: http://xmacis.rcc-acis.org/
Figure 2: After several weeks of heavy rain due to an anomalously wet summer pattern shift in late July 2018, a significant rain event pushed many locations in central and eastern Pennsylvania over the edge with catastrophic flood impacts from August 10-15, 2018. Map Data Source: Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center
Only three (3) weeks prior to the August 10 through August 15, 2018 events, a meteorological pattern shift occurred which placed Pennsylvania in the bullseye of numerous rounds of significant, heavy rainfall which would last through August 15, 2018. From July 21 through July 27, 2018, a significant period of rain rapidly oversaturated soils, causing flash flooding resulting in streams and rivers overflowing banks. Roughly three quarters (3/4) of an inch to one (1) inch of rainfall is average for the region during this period, but many weather observation points received eight (8) to sixteen (16) times the average. These extreme rainfall totals are very unusual to the Commonwealth in such a short time period, especially without a tropical storm or hurricane. This rainfall produced its own round of severe flooding which impacted a large portion of central Pennsylvania from the Maryland to New York borders. The rainfall amounts seen in July are comparable to Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, the summer floods of 2006, and Hurricane Agnes in 1972, all of which caused significant impacts to the Commonwealth.
Furthermore, the significant rainfall event spanning August 10 through August 15, 2018, was part of a record breaking wet pattern for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. According to data provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), February and July 2018, are record wet months for Pennsylvania, covering one hundred and twenty-four (124) years of data. July 2018, alone ranks in the top one percent (1%) of wettest months ever recorded in Pennsylvania since 1895. The year to date period of January through September 2018, is also the record wettest for Pennsylvania. The relentless rainfall pushed official observation points at Reading, State College, and Williamsport to their wettest summers ever recorded in Commonwealth history, with Harrisburg and Scranton at second (2nd) and third (3rd) wettest summers respectively.
Figure 3: Numerous heavy rainfall events created an unprecedented deluge for much of central and eastern Pennsylvania in less than four weeks’ time. Rainfall amounts of 10-15 inches were commonplace, with reports exceeding 22 inches in localized areas.
|Towanda 1 S||Bradford||15.65″||2.89″||+12.76″|
|Mahanoy City 2 N||Schuylkill||18.77″||3.75″||+15.02″|
|Tamaqua 4 N Dam||Schuylkill||16.77″||3.37″||+13.40″|
|Covington 2 WSW||Tioga||11.29″||–“||–“|
|Tioga Hammond Dam||Tioga||10.53″||3.04″||+7.49″|
|Williamsport Regional Airport||Lycoming||15.45″||3.54″||+11.91″|
Figure 4: Observed rainfall, average rainfall, and departure from average for the period of July 21 to August 15, 2018, for the same observation points in impacted counties for the August 10-15, 2018, events in Figure 1. Source: http://xmacis.rcc-acis.org/
III. IMPACT ON THE COMMONWEALTH
The repetitive nature of the storms that impacted the citizens of Pennsylvania has exceeded their ability to individually recover. Funds citizens expended a month earlier to replace mechanical systems, washers, dryers, dehumidifiers and pressure washers had already exceeded financial resources. The August 10 through August 15, 2018, repetitive incident interrupted or erased individual recovery efforts, and caused equal or more severe water damage. Individual financial resources are depleted, and citizens simply do not have the means to make their homes habitable again. Physical and financial fatigue has become the mantra of this series of events. The depletion of resources is also true for the volunteer organizations that assist individuals.
The communities impacted by these storms are generally blue collar, working class communities with an aging population base. Significant portions of these communities are economically vulnerable. In addition to the physical damage, the economic impact of these storms will have a significant impact on the regional economy. Businesses that were affected in several communities have decided to permanently close, rather than continue to experience the ongoing cycle of flooding, then cleanup, followed by subsequent flooding.
Primary residential properties in thirteen (13) of the Commonwealth’s sixty-seven (67) counties were impacted by the severe storms as follows: thirty-two (32) properties were destroyed, two hundred and fifty-two (252) properties sustained major damage requiring a month or more to repair, and another eight hundred and thirty-five (835) residences were impacted by water to varying severity.
The impact of this event on the Commonwealth was magnified by the earlier July 21 through July 27, 2018, and the later August 31 through September 1, 2018, severe weather events where eight (8) primary residential properties were destroyed, fifty-four (54) properties sustained major damage, and one hundred and twenty-one (121) residences were impacted with water to varying severity.
A. Human Resources
The storms required all state and local resources, including state and local road crews and equipment, and countless hours of staff time to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of Commonwealth citizens and property. The closure and slowing of transportation routes cchallenged timely emergency service response and access to facilities.
The Disaster Distress Helpline, a 24/7 national hotline, dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any disaster was in effect throughout the storms. The assistance was available through an 800-telephone number or texting.
In addition, Voluntary Organizations Active in a Disaster (VOAD) provided resources and conducted activities in response to this event. Specifically:
- American Red Cross (ARC) prepared shelters and mass feeding to support evacuated residents.
- ARC provided continuous Agency Representatives (AREPs) to the Commonwealth Response Coordination Center (CRCC) for coordination of sheltering operations.
- ARC distributed clean-up kits and bulk items to the affected areas.
- The Pennsylvania VOAD executive committee maintained communications and interagency coordination between the CRCC and member organizations for delivery of emergency assistance.
- VOAD members provided material and personnel support to Emergency Support Function 6 (Mass Care).
The Commonwealth used a new computer based tracking system for citizen recovery assistance requests called “Crisis Cleanup.” The program facilitates contact between the requesting citizen and available voluntary agency resources. The Commonwealth and assisting VOAD agencies received six hundred eighty-nine (689) direct calls for recovery assistance. Callers provided basic information concerning their location and needs to a bank of intake workers. The intake workers entered the information into the program. The participating VOAD agencies accessed the database of requests, and accepted assignments. The assignments were then tracked through completion.
The members active in this recovery mission included the ARC, Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Lions Club International, Salvation Army, Team Rubicon, A.G.A.P.E. of Columbia County, Mennonite Disaster Services, United Church of Christ, Latter Day Saints Charities, Lend-a-Hand of Lebanon County, and Lutheran Disaster Response.
Pennsylvania’s need for Public Assistance is supported by the compelling factors that exist from this extraordinary event, including the high concentration of damages in certain areas and the trauma from this event that has severely impacted many rural and impoverished communities. Bradford and Sullivan counties were assessed at over one hundred (100) times their per capita. Montour and Susquehanna counties were assessed at over ten (10) times their per capita. Columbia, Lackawanna, Lycoming, and Schuylkill counties were assessed at over three (3) times their per capita. Tioga and Wyoming counties also exceeded their per capita.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reported that many sewage treatment plants bypassed to streams due to either overload or lost power. DEP monitored water treatment plants and private wells for contamination. DEP monitored dams and assisted in the evacuation of inundated areas as dams and water retention areas threatened, and in some cases, ultimately exceeded containment areas. As a result of this emergency event, wells were contaminated, water mains ruptured, and water treatment plants were out of service because of debris and turbidity, which in many cases resulted in issued boil water advisories in many affected communities.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) reported that nine (9) bridges were destroyed and several others received major damage for this event. Over six hundred (600) roadways closed as a result of these storms. Although significant expenditures have been made for temporary repairs, permanent restoration exceeds local and state ability to recover.
Most of the impacted counties are faced with the formidable challenge of higher rates of elderly population, poverty, and income below the household national and state averages. Of the counties requested in this letter, Bradford, Columbia, Northumberland, and Sullivan counties all possess these three (3) characteristics, which exacerbate the impact of these storms. Sullivan County has the highest per capita senior citizen percentage in Pennsylvania’s sixty-seven (67) counties. Northumberland and Sullivan counties all have median household incomes greater than $10,000.00 less than the state and national averages. While data on disability rates are not complete for most counties, Northumberland County has a disability rate that significantly exceeds both state and national averages. Enclosure D sets forth Pennsylvania’s demographic detail illustrating these points.
Gas and electric utilities were disconnected for many residents due to the flooding. In many cases, over three (3) feet of water caused the displacement of furnaces and water heaters. Many remained shut off for days until the necessary safety inspections, repairs, and replacements could be completed.
In some areas, individuals needing medical treatment, such as dialysis, were unable to reach scheduled appointments. Affected citizens requested prescription delivery or transport to medical facilities. Displaced individuals were afforded emotional care and counseling. Local nursing and personal care facilities activated emergency plans and moved residents as the flooding situation worsened. Temporary transport routes were established to enable residents to reach food and drug stores outside of their impacted communities.
As a result of these storms, Pennsylvania families will find it difficult to repair their homes before the cold winter months. Most of the damaged homes have furnaces, hot water heaters, and electric systems in their basements, and the purchase of these critical systems will be beyond the financial resources of these aging and low-income populations. Homes in many of the affected areas are one hundred (100) years old or greater, of wood frame construction, stone foundations, multi-level homes with basements that contain much of the electrical and utility items such as heating systems and water heaters. Most of these same households do not have flood insurance to pay for replacement of these items.
Finally, the Pennsylvania Department of Health verified two (2) storm related deaths.
Due to the nature of the storms, many of the affected area households are without flood insurance as these areas have never been affected by flooding events, and are far removed from special hazard areas or flood plains. Many of the households are already owned, and there are no mortgage lien holders to require flood insurance policies for properties in identified flood zones. For example, in Wyoming County, only ten percent (10%) of the homes surveyed had flood insurance.
In addition, many Pennsylvania families have been challenged in obtaining flood insurance as industry professionals incorrectly indicate that properties outside of designated hazard areas are not eligible for flood insurance. The Commonwealth continues to educate citizens and industry professionals that flood insurance is in fact available and recommended.
E. Community Businesses
Many small businesses were closed during the event and could not reopen until cleaned and inspected. Some remained closed for as many as eleven (11) days due to runoff from local treatment plants. Many reported small losses and some initially reported damages of over $100,000. Many landscaping and agricultural businesses were affected. Local farmers continue to deal with extensive crop destruction due to excessive rain and flooding which caused water logging and muddy conditions affecting the use of farming equipment.
Other businesses reporting losses include: food processing, car dealerships, construction companies, retirement communities, camp grounds, and recreational facilities.
The total cost of the historic weather event is still being tallied, including the loss of farm crops and lost revenues from the businesses that were closed for a day or more.
IV. IMPACT ON THE COUNTIES
Pennsylvania’s need for federal assistance is supported by the compelling factors that exist from this extraordinary event, including the high concentration of damages in certain areas and the trauma from this event that has severely impacted many rural and economically challenged communities.
Pennsylvania is known to be one of the most flood-prone states. This event provided a unique occurrence of a severe storm stalling over many municipalities that rarely, or have never, experienced serious flooding. Many of the damages to individual residences cannot be mitigated by insurance coverage, as mentioned previously, for a variety of reasons.
The impact reports received from the affected counties show common areas of events, response activities and damages.
While Pennsylvanians showed their resilience during this disaster situation, disaster support was necessary. The ARC worked with local volunteers to staff shelters for citizens that chose to avail themselves of those facilities. Alternatively, individuals and families avoided shelters and sought temporary arrangements with family or friends near, but outside the affected area. Finally, a few individuals were offered housing vouchers for local hotels.
Many of the communities impacted by this storm have an older population with a higher than average number of families with low or fixed incomes. As previously noted, Sullivan County, one (1) of the impacted counties, has the highest percentage of seniors per capita in the Commonwealth.
Some of the affected counties are located in isolated areas where few alternatives for the provision of goods and services exist. In these areas, the impact of road and bridge failures made their homes inaccessible, and their needs for assistance significant.
IMPACT STATEMENTS FROM REQUESTED COUNTIES
Berks County reported repetitive flash flooding with Hamburg Borough being the most affected area. Other areas had several inches of flooding, but Hamburg experienced several feet of flooding. Residents reported anxiety, emotional distress, panic attacks and lost wages causing financial burdens. Insurance companies have denied many claims due to residents not having flood insurance or flood riders. Residents with basement apartments have been displaced and some have lost all furniture and personal belongings. Many elderly residents have requested additional assistance to recover and stay in their residences. Elderly residents do not have the means to clean or pay for environmental contractors due to fixed or low incomes. There are associated health issues for elderly, and newborn children and infants in flooded areas. Washington Street in Hamburg was the hardest hit area, and primarily consists of government subsidized housing. Volunteers helped with donations and manpower to assist in debris removal, but the need outweighed the available help. Many have lost irreplaceable personal belongings and many cannot even financially afford to replace necessities. Most residents continue to remain in their homes due to lack of any other means, and fear that what is left in their homes may be stolen. Eight (8) other municipalities reported damages and effects related to the event. Fire companies pumped out approximately one hundred (100) basements in a two-day (2) period. One (1) individual reported that they were fired from their job for missing work to clean and disinfect their home.
Bradford County reported damages mainly due to flash flooding situations. Forty-four (44) municipalities reported being affected in some way by the event. During the event about three hundred forty (340) homes and thirteen (13) businesses were impacted. There was one (1) report of a missing person, which resulted in search and rescue response activity, including helicopter assistance. At least five (5) individuals with special needs were affected with rescue services requested. For the period, a Red Cross shelter accommodated thirty (30) evacuated residents. Another community shelter was opened for displaced residents who could not make it to the Red Cross shelter. Damages included several bridges and wash outs of public and private roads which continue to leave homes inaccessible.
Columbia County reported flash flooding from Fishing Creek that flooded much of the county. Quickly rising streams and mountain runoff flooded numerous homes and basements. Roadways were closed or destroyed from the flooding. Helicopter rescues were necessary for residents stranded on rooftops in Benton Township in the Maple Grove area. Elk Grove residents, located in Sugarloaf Township were stranded for four (4) days due to the creek re-routing and flooding across the only access road. Many other roads and bridges were closed due to sustained damages. One (1) incident related death was reported after an evacuation to a local hospital. At least one (1) reported Red Cross shelter was opened with twenty-three (23) overnight residents. Loss of electricity in Sugarloaf Township was mitigated by a Pennsylvania utility that provided an emergency generator station until main line power was restored within three (3) days.
Montour County reported extremely heavy rains with damaging flooding to homes and infrastructure. Twenty-seven (27) homes were damaged with several feet of water on the first floor. In addition, many homes sustained foundation damage, and some outbuildings were washed away. Residents have limited resources available to repair properties to a livable condition. Several properties do not have heating systems restored for the upcoming winter season. Large areas had loss of utilities for safety reasons until inspections could be completed. Multiple municipalities suffered road closures and damages to roads and bridges. A county owned bridge was destroyed, and debris was removed to prevent a damming effect.
Northampton County reported a continuous constant weather pattern that resulted in elevated amounts of precipitation causing flooding within the county due to the large volume of rain. Most of the rain caused minor or nuisance flooding to municipalities within the county; however, the rain on August 10 through August 11, 2018, caused substantial flooding resulting in individual and public property damage. The heavy rains that the county experienced on August 10, 2018, caused flooding issues across most of the thirty-eight (38) municipalities within the county. Municipalities in the northern tier, such as Lehigh Township, typically experience little to no flooding during any rain event, large or small. However, on this date the state roads became rivers, and quaint, small streams suddenly grew from eight (8) to twelve (12) inch depths to ten (10) to fifteen (15) foot depths which destroyed two (2) residential access routes within Lehigh Township. The affected homes were cut off from emergency service response. Heavy rains caused a municipal discharge pipe to collapse due to excess volume from borough roadway and storm drains. This pipe collapse occurred in Walnutport Borough in the northern tier of the county; this pipe has never been damaged before by rain or any other weather events.
The southern tier of Northampton County experienced the most significant damages. Two (2) homes that are nestled along the Fry’s Run Stream were heavily damaged. The Fry’s Run Stream, which runs through Williams Township, is a protected stream with a depth of approximately two (2) feet at the deepest part. Even at a mildly swollen flow the stream is four (4) to six (6) feet in width. However, after the storms the stream grew from two (2) feet deep to fifteen (15) to twenty (20) feet deep with a width of approximately thirty (30) feet. The stream tore through the basements of two (2) homes that sit about ten (10) to fifteen (15) feet from the stream. The two (2) homes damaged have never sustained water damage before, but during this storm one (1) home experienced approximately five (5) to six (6) feet of water within their recently renovated first floor kitchen area. The water submerged all major appliances such as the washing machine, dryer, furnace, refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher. The water also half submerged the electrical panel. These two (2) homes on Kressman Road in Williams Township are vulnerable to landslides because the retaining walls that protect the homes from the stream are almost completely washed out.
The flood waters along the Fry’s Run Stream caused washout and structural damage to three (3) bridges, all within two (2) miles of each other. Two (2) of the bridges, the Raubsville Road Bridge and the Durham Road Bridge, are state owned and maintained bridges, and the third (3rd) bridge, the Kressman Road Bridge, is a Northampton County owned and maintained bridge. All three (3) bridges are now closed until further notice. PennDOT will make necessary repairs to the Raubsville Road and Durham Road bridges; however, the Kressman Road Bridge remains damaged and debris covered. The county is finding it difficult to find the monies needed to replace this bridge that had no deficiencies just a week earlier. The Raubsville Road, Durham Road, and Kressman Road bridges are utilized by commuters and citizens of Williams Township, and surrounding areas when traveling from southern Northampton County to Bucks County. These routes have been cut off, and closed until further notice. As such, State Route 611 is the only route of travel from the City of Easton to any destination south. The bridge destruction also caused financial hardships to local farmers, such as the Seiple Farm located at 1445 Raubsville Road. With the bridges closed, farm employees must now take a four (4) to five (5) mile detour while operating heavy, slow farming equipment, to be able to access eighty percent (80 %) of the farm’s crops and pastures. A former five (5) to seven (7) minute ride to the farm’s fields now takes about twenty (20) to thirty (30) minutes without vehicular traffic, and significantly increases fuel costs.
The county also experienced substantial damage to Fry’s Run Park, a park that is owned and maintained by the county.
Numerous homes across the county were flooded, primarily within both finished and unfinished basements of the homes. The homes are experiencing mold growth due to the elevated temperatures and humidity that followed these storms. Ten (10) residences in Northampton Borough experienced not only rain water flooding, but a local sewage pipe back-up. Rain mixed with the flood waters infiltrated ten (10) basements in Northampton Borough with three (3) to four (4) feet of sewage and rain waters. Some residents suffered bacterial infections simply trying to clean their basements. Two (2) to three (3) homes are now vacant because the residents do not have the funds to clean the house properly. Almost all of the properties affected have no flood insurance. The ten (10) affected Northampton Borough homeowners were told by the municipal insurance provider that they do not qualify for flood insurance.
Schuylkill County reported it began to experience significant localized flooding events as early as June 28, 2018, in Pine Grove Township. The trend continued into July and through August 2018, impacting areas from the extreme western end of the county through the central, more heavily populated areas. First responders faced significant flash flooding and employed boats and high clearance vehicles to remove stranded victims from homes and vehicles. Emergency services, including mutual aid assistance from all areas of the county, worked tirelessly for days pumping water from flooded basements. Community and faith-based groups assisted residents by clearing water sodden debris from basements and living areas.
The conditions posed dangers from water borne disease, chemical exposure, electrical hazards, drowning, trips and falls, as well as mental and emotional trauma for first responders, community volunteers, and the residents impacted by the flooding events. Impacted townships in the county include: Upper Mahantongo, Hegins, Hubley, Barry, Porter, Pine Grove, Tremont, Frailey, East Norwegian, West Mahanoy, New Castle, Washington, and Butler. Also affected were the boroughs of Tower City, Pine Grove, Tremont, Port Carbon, Mount Carbon, Saint Clair, Frackville, Girardville, Gilberton, Mechanicsville, Schuylkill Haven, and the City of Pottsville. Based on a survey of flooded areas and a review of emergency calls during the storm, approximately six thousand eight hundred (6,800) people may have been impacted by this event. This estimate includes a significant number of elderly, impoverished, and lower middle-class households. The resulting cost of repairs from the storm damage is disproportionate to annual household incomes in the county. The most affordable inventory of available real estate within the county is located in flood plains, yet most residents do not maintain flood insurance.
Wyoming County reported that it was affected by flooding that posed many challenges for its municipalities. Homes in Nicholson Borough were affected by flooding. Flash flooding of Norton’s Creek caused the fire and rescue department to deploy water rescue teams. Shelters were opened for residents who had to evacuate from their homes. One (1) home in the borough was completely destroyed, while others suffered basement flooding that caused heating systems, water tanks, freezers with food, washers and dryers to be destroyed. Water in living areas caused damage to furniture. In several cases insurance was denied. Volunteers assisted with home clean-up. Fire departments pumped out basements. Dumpsters were deployed at the expense of home owners. Residents are concerned with mold issues. Residents are suffering from anxiety; this event is very stressful to the residents as they try to recover with limited funds. Residents lost wages during the event.
V. STATE AND LOCAL RESPONSE TO THE DISASTER
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) activated the CRCC beginning on July 20, 2018. PEMA coordinated with NWS, local jurisdictions, and state agencies concerning the storm forecasts, and potential impacts associated with anticipated/actual flash flooding. The CRCC activated required emergency support functions, and performed the following: monitored the storms; interfaced with and sent liaisons to affected areas throughout the Commonwealth; communicated with state agencies anticipated to be impacted by the event; disseminated the necessary information and guidance to the public; responded to media inquiries; mobilized and pre-staged resources to effectively respond to local and regional requests for assistance; and responded to other requests for assistance, as required.
The CRCC logistics section coordinated resource requests for unmet needs; conducted the procurement of assets and supplies; and supported CRCC operations with information technology services, communications, provisioning of meals, security, and safety.
I directed the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection, Health, Human Services, and Transportation, and the Public Utility Commission to take those steps necessary to assist county and community officials to restore order and safety to the affected areas. I further tasked these agencies to assist affected county and local government officials in the assessment and documentation of damage. Representatives from these and other state agencies worked closely with municipal and county officials to identify the storm impact areas, and developed a detailed assessment of damages to residential, business, critical infrastructure, and government property.
County emergency management coordinators engaged in critical life safety measures including swift water rescues and property preservation endeavors as a result of widespread damage from historic flooding. The Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (PA-HART) conducted several life-saving activities, and the Pennsylvania All-Hazard Incident Management Team (PA-IMT) assisted county emergency management staff with the coordination of resources to perform life-saving missions.
Rivers and streams ran at high velocity and dangerously high levels for prolonged periods of time and produced major scouring damages to bridges and roadways. Bridges and roadways were washed away, road surfaces were lifted, and sinkholes opened in the middle of traveling lanes. The inaccessibility to bridges and flooded roadways made routine transportation difficult. PennDOT was fully engaged in making temporary repairs, performing bridge inspections, and developing traffic detours.
After response operations subsided, PEMA reviewed and evaluated Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs) received from affected local governments and state agencies. Damage costs were compared with per capita thresholds. All data that was consistent with, and met per capita thresholds was provided to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region III for review, and Joint PDAs began on September 10, 2018.
PennDOT conducted operations to evaluate and begin immediate repairs on critical highways and other roadways. District incident command centers were activated and roads were closed. PennDOT monitored road conditions; coordinated the closure of designated roads; activated Variable Message Signs (VMS) with emergency messages; and responded to accidents and emergencies.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) provided public health and medical assistance in support of evacuation, sheltering, and all other flood response efforts. This included providing health and medical surge response where needed, and by providing supplies, equipment, personnel, and vehicles, as requested. DOH reached out to Emergency Medical Service (EMS) regions to ensure emergency medical teams were ready to respond and support strike teams in numerous locations across the Commonwealth. Agency Representatives were stationed in the CRCC.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) monitored dependent care facilities. The mental health hotline number was activated. DHS coordinated with the ARC. Several county assistance offices were closed. Agency Representatives were stationed in the CRCC.
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging worked with its statewide network to ensure emergency meals and appropriate plans were in place. This preparation included working with other state agencies to ensure that any populations under its care were properly evacuated and sheltered.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) monitored activities across the Commonwealth and prepared response personnel for quick recovery inspections. PDA planned the facilitation of any unmet needs for animal shelters with the State Animal Response Team (SART). PDA food inspectors worked to identify food establishments that were flooded.
The Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) worked closely with the Office of Administration on all Commonwealth building-related issues. DGS continues to assess flooding effects to state-owned or leased facilities and land.
The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development continues to assess potential assistance to communities.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources closed several state parks due to the weather conditions, and planned support mechanisms to evacuate state parks and forest lands.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections monitored conditions in its facilities and tested backup generators in case of power outages. Several facilities prepared to support sheltering and mass care activities.
The Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) responded to police incidents, assisted with highway closures, and established detours around closed roads. PSP also supplied aviation support for damage assessment overflights in the impacted areas and conducted spotting of stranded citizens as part of its life-safety missions.
DEP provided support at the CRCC, and in the affected localities to ensure safe water supplies were available to residents. DEP reported several sewage treatment plants bypassed to streams. DEP monitored potentially contaminated water treatment plants and private wells that required testing. DEP monitored dams of special concern, and assisted in the evacuation of inundated areas as dams and water retention areas spilled over.
VI. RECENT DISASTER HISTORY
The Commonwealth experienced a geological event in February and March of 2018, primarily in Western Pennsylvania. The total damages exceeded $22 million dollars.
In addition to many other summer rainstorms, this is the second (2nd) of three (3) major events experienced by the Commonwealth within a two (2) month period. Although the other events were deemed as separate occurrences and did not meet the specified county or state thresholds independently, they resulted in significant damages to many of the same affected counties in this request. In total, the three (3) storms resulted in $91,473,539 of damages. According to Joint PDAs, damages attributed to the July 21 through July 27, 2018, incident period totaled $14,183,737. In addition, damages attributed to the August 31 through September 1, 2018, incident period totaled $14,535,088, according to Joint PDAs. Finally, damages attributed to the August 10 through August 15, 2018, incident period totaled $62,754,714, according to Joint PDAs. While this incident period alone is devastating, beyond the capability of the Commonwealth, and warrants a major disaster declaration, the Commonwealth and affected local governments simply cannot fully recover from the cumulative effects of the storms without the requested federal assistance.
In closing, I want to emphasize the urgency of this request as the winter months are quickly approaching, and federal assistance is necessary to restore the affected residents and local governments to pre-storm living and operating conditions. Accordingly, I respectfully request that you declare a major disaster for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Finally, I have designated Mr. Jeffrey A. Thomas as the State Coordinating Officer for this request. Mr. Thomas can be reached at 717-651-2028 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and will work with FEMA to provide further information as needed on my behalf.