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Residents cope as floods recede; HIA sees record rainfall for July; disaster declarations declared

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 8/1/18

When Leon Merlin moved to the trailer park near Swatara Park Road about a year ago, he said he was warned that it often flooded.

When the rain started falling last week, and Merlin saw the water …

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Residents cope as floods recede; HIA sees record rainfall for July; disaster declarations declared

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When Leon Merlin moved to the trailer park near Swatara Park Road about a year ago, he said he was warned that it often flooded.

When the rain started falling last week, and Merlin saw the water rising, he said he knew he had to leave.

“You’re in a flood zone. So go,” he told the Press & Journal on Thursday.

Water was still high by Thursday, and the train tracks that run across Swatara Park Road in Lower Swatara Township were submerged in flood water.

Friends came by and used their trucks to pull out Merlin’s trailer and shed. Merlin strengthened the frame of a hay wagon to hold the weight of the shed. 

“I didn’t want to break down halfway down the lane. I would lose so much,” Merlin said from his shed parked on higher ground along Swatara Park Road.

Others weren’t as lucky.

Darlene Cauler’s son-in-law’s mother and brother also lived in an RV near Swatara Park Road. By the time they realized just how high the water was going to get, the ground was too soft to tow it out.

“It would not drive. We could not get it out,” she said. “They lost everything now.”

They grabbed some irreplaceable items — such as photographs — and anything else they could get into a car, and since the flood, they have been living at Cauler’s home.

“She’s putting on a brave face, but I think she’s got to be terrified,” Cauler said of her son-in-law’s mother.

By the numbers

Throughout the area, people dealt with the effects of the heavy rain. According to the National Weather Service in State College, 9.38 inches of rain fell at Harrisburg International Airport between July 21 and July 25. Municipalities closed roads. In Londonderry Township, residents lost power, although it all had been restored by Monday.

Dauphin County commissioners issued a disaster declaration for the county, as did Londonderry Township and Middletown.

According to the National Weather Service, rounds of drenching downpours might produce localized flooding this week, but they are not anticipating a repeat of last week. The recent saturation will leave parts of central Pennsylvania vulnerable to isolated flash flooding, according to the National Weather Service. The forecast rainfall amounts through Friday generally range from 1 to 3 inches.

According to the National Weather Service, the HIA rainfall of 12.09 inches easily ranks as the wettest July on record for the airport but also the fourth wettest individual month on record. The top-3 wettest months at HIA had tropical footprints: June 1972 (Hurricane Agnes), September 2011 (Tropical Storm Lee), and September 1975 (Hurricane Eloise).

As of 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, the Swatara Creek in Middletown was at 5.62 inches, below the flood stage of 10 feet and well below its crest of 16.19 feet Thursday.

The Swatara Creek near Hershey has dropped dramatically, at 3.19 feet as of 8:45 a.m. Tuesday. It crested at 17.08 feet early Thursday, closing the Duke Street Bridge over the Swatara Creek between Hummelstown and South Hanover Township. That has since reopened.

The river gauge on Swatara Creek at Hershey reached the second highest level since records began in October 1975, according to the National Weather Service.

One dies in flooding

Nineteen-year-old Laura Olweiler went missing on Monday after she got swept away while trying to cross the Conewago Creek in the 500 block of Koser Road in Conewago Township with a 22-year-old relative.

A body was found three-quarters of a mile from where Olweiler went missing on Thursday, and the Lancaster County Coroner’s Office positively identified the body as the woman on Friday.

Olweiler’s relative was also swept away but was able to grab a log until a neighbor heard her cries for help and rescued her.

Local basements flooded

Julie Stone and her family have lived in their home on the corner of East Roosevelt Avenue and Spruce Street in Middletown for 14 years, and during those years, their basement has flooded five or six times. 

They started getting water in their basement early Tuesday morning last week. The drain, she said, backs up during heavy rain.

“The water in the drain starts to come up like a fountain,” she said.

They picked everything off the floor and anything else was either in plastic containers or on the shelves. Stone and her husband had to stay home from work on Tuesday and Wednesday to stay ahead of the water.

“We were up most nights monitoring the water,” Stone said. By Thursday morning, she said it seemed that the water stopped seeping in, but just to be safe, her father stayed at the house to make sure everything was dry.

At Joan Smith’s house on Fiddlers Elbow Road in Hummelstown next to the Swatara Creek, they formed a chain of people trying to haul the water out of her basement.

“It was a losing battle,” she said.

Smith has lived in her home since 1965. During the 1972 flood (Hurricane Agnes) and 2011 flood (Tropical Storm Lee), she had 3 feet of water on the first floor of her home. The water during this rainfall was contained to her basement, and on Thursday, she said she still had around 6 inches in her basement.

Water has been seeping in through her walls, and Smith said they’re waiting for the water table to go down in the Swatara Creek.

“We sure hope we don’t have any more rain,” she said.

As for Merlin, he said he doesn’t know whether he would move back to the trailer park.

“I’m no way ruined by this. All it took was the spot where I was staying,” Merlin said.

Most roads, bridges open

Flooding closed many road and bridges.

As of Tuesday morning, all roads that were closed due to flooding are now open in Middletown, including Route 230. There was heavy water on that road, especially on the Londonderry Township side.

As of Tuesday morning, all of the previously closed streets in Lower Swatara Township have been reopened, township manager Betsy McBride said. This includes Fiddlers Elbow Bridge over the Swatara Creek and Swatara Park Road.

Engle Road Bridge over the Conewago Creek between Londonderry and Conoy townships is closed. The bridge was not damaged, but it is closed due to damage to the approaching roadway.

Power restored

Metropolitan Edison spokesman Scott Surgeoner said at its peak, 600 customers in Londonderry Township lost power during the week.

Surgeoner said the outages were due to poles and wires that were brought down during the storm, mostly because of falling trees.

Though Surgeoner couldn’t say where all the poles came down, township manager Steve Letavic said trees and wires were down on South Geyers Church Road and Locust Grove Road.

Londonderry Public Works Director Andy Brandt said the only road still closed in the township is Engle Road near Pecks Road. As of Tuesday morning, he said they were in the process of getting it repaired.