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Berks County, Pa., Flooding Draws Statewide Emergency Response

If the rain doesn't let up, meteorologists are predicting this August could prove to be the wettest ever recorded.

by Steven Henshaw, Reading Eagle, Pa. / August 15, 2018

(TNS) — The summer of seemingly endless rainfall took its toll again on the Berks County, Pa., region Monday, dumping several inches of precipitation that led to widespread flooding on areas already inundated in recent weeks.

And if the rain doesn't let up, meteorologists are predicting this August could prove to be the wettest ever recorded.

AccuWeather meteorologist Danielle Knittle said that 9.06 inches of rain has been recorded this month at Reading Regional Airport in Bern Township, the official site for Berks County rainfall totals.

Knittle said that total put it in second place behind August 1955, when 14.85 inches of rain was recorded over the entire month.

In a typical August, Knittle said, Berks County has an average of 3.64 inches of rain.

Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency was working with county and local agencies to monitor flash flooding that hit Berks and Schuylkill counties, the Tri-County area and elsewhere in the region.

“Our emergency agency personnel — state, county and local — are focused on helping Pennsylvanians in need as many parts of central Pennsylvania face another round of heavy rain and flash flooding,” Wolf said in a Monday news release.

Low-lying areas were underwater by mid-morning after a shower became a deluge, dumping 2.63 inches of rain at Reading Regional Airport, Knittle said.

And with the ground already saturated from Saturday morning's heavy thunderstorms, it didn't take much rain to overflow smaller streams like the Wyomissing, Willow, Angelica, Manatawny and Hay Creeks and Laurel Run.

Emergency in Hamburg

Among the hardest hit areas of Berks was Hamburg, where Mayor George Holmes declared a state of emergency around noon.

The order, which was in effect until Monday evening, followed reports that cars were beginning to float on Washington Street, creating a hazard to motorists and pedestrians.

Holmes said just about every home in the 200 block of Washington had some flooding in its basement, and some had water in the living quarters.

Knittle said that as much as 51/2 inches of rain was unofficially recorded in Hamburg over a four-hour stretch Monday morning, leading to severe flooding.

Occupants of two homes on Port Clinton Avenue were displaced, with the residents relocated to Hamburg High School until temporary housing could be arranged, Holmes said.

Hamburg Fire Company personnel were going home to home pumping out basements well into Monday night.

“Right now things are looking better because the water has receded,” Holmes said at 2 p.m. “The police and fire departments are out there patrolling and helping the residents where they can.

“We're still bracing for more water flow from the Schuylkill as that comes down, but hopefully the rain will hold off and we don't have more issues like we did today.”

Some areas of the borough weren't affected at all, while isolated pockets experienced the worst flooding since Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, the mayor said.

Berks 9-1-1 dispatchers received numerous calls for flooded basements in other areas, too, including a home in the first block of North First Street in Upper Bern Township, where more than a foot of water in the basement was threatening a utility panel Monday evening.

A home in the first block of West Shore Drive in Maidencreek Township reportedly had water up to the ceiling in the basement on Monday night.

Underwater roads

Numerous rescues of motorists stalled in stormwater were conducted Monday morning. Route 422 westbound in Amity Township was impassable through the morning rush, and Route 12 was closed between the North Fifth Street Highway and Route 61 interchanges in Muhlenberg Township for much of the morning.

Besides Route 12, sections of northbound Route 61 were closed in the Leesport area, including the northbound lanes at Ashley Way, adjacent to the Sheetz store, in Ontelaunee Township.

G. Dane Miller, emergency management coordinator for the township, said that numerous township roads were closed due to flooding.

Blue Marsh Lake closed all of its boat launches Monday because of flooding, Ranger Josh Fraley said.

Leesport officials also issued an advisory for recreational boaters to stay off the Schuylkill River due to extremely strong currents.

The rain began in the Reading area shortly before dawn, prompting the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., to issue a flood warning for Berks and Schuylkill counties and the Tri-County area through Monday night.

The weather service had issued a flood watch late Sunday for eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, northeast Maryland and New Jersey.

In hard-hit western Schuylkill County, emergency officials declared a state of emergency in Pine Grove Borough on Monday morning because of extensive flooding.

Residents in low-lying areas were being relocated to temporary shelters. Pine Grove opened its shelter at the Pine Grove High School with assistance from the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross of Eastern Pennsylvania said Monday morning that it was monitoring flash flooding and was ready to assist those affected by the heavy rain.

Wolf said that the Commonwealth Response Coordination Center was activated in the morning at PEMA, with staff in the situation awareness, logistics and health sections ready to plan operations and staffing as needed.

The Pennsylvania National Guard was given a warning order to ensure availability of personnel should they be needed.

Besides Hamburg and Muhlenberg Township, among the other heavily affected areas in Berks were Birdsboro, Leesport, Laureldale and Kutztown.

Knittle said that nearly 4 inches of rain had fallen in Birdsboro by 10:30 a.m.

The first day of the Kutztown Fair was also canceled because of the heavy rain, according to social media posts.

Parks flooded

Wyomissing Park was underwater from the Reading Public Museum to the West Reading pool as the Wyomissing Creek overflowed its banks.

It was a similar scene along Old River Road near Route 724 just along the south bank of the Schuylkill River outside Birdsboro in Robeson Township.

In Pottstown, ducks were bobbing over land in the borough park after Manatawny Creek spilled its banks.

At Monday night's Reading City Council meeting, Public Works Director Ralph Johnson said that his office had fielded calls all day about flooded basements.

Johnson said that with all of the recent rain, his department was keeping a watchful eye on dams in and around the city to make sure they are remaining stable.

Reading Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz reported that she heard from residents along South 16th Street that springs are pushing out water and causing some flooding in basements.

Exeter Township employees struggled to place orange traffic cones around an exposed manhole after the cover popped off and floated away in the Exeter Commons shopping center. The issue was that the cones kept floating away.

Exeter firefighters went out on several calls during the storm, which lasted until shortly after noon, township Fire Chief Robert Jordan said. They ranged from malfunctioning automatic fire alarms to requests by homeowners to pump out flooded basements.

There were about a half-dozen roads closed in the township.

“Hopefully this water will recede and things will get back to normal,” Jordan said.

(Reporter Anthony Orozco contributed to this story.)

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