This Week In Pittsburgh History: That Time We Were Under Water

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Sometimes, we don’t realize how fortunate we are when it comes to the weather in our area. Does it get cold? Absolutely! Does it get humid? Enough to see the thickness of the air! But one thing we don’t usually have to worry about is natural disasters. On the heels of a very uncommon twister touching down near Slippery Rock yesterday, I thought…what better time to talk about September 17th, 2004. The day Hurricane Ivan arrived.

Hurricane Ivan and its remnants battered Alabama, North Carolina and West Virginia before heading for this small, blue-collar community on the Allegheny River. But not even hundreds of miles of destruction could lessen the storm’s fury. Floodwaters gutted nearly every store and office downtown, leaving dozens of homes filthy, stinking and uninhabitable. The above picture was taken all the way in Aliquippa, PA, at the Green Garden Plaza (also where the Flight 427 tragedy happened this same week in 1995).

The hard-luck stories were endless: 100-year-old houses ruined. Family businesses under water. Cherished cars submerged. Floods rampaged across southwestern Pennsylvania, deluging streets so fast that many people took refuge on upper floors only to become stranded.

In and around the Pittsburgh area, roads and highways remained closed for days (weeks in some instances) because of flooding and landslides. Mobile homes were evacuated and some destroyed. In Carnegie, the local stream rose so fast that it boxed in the town’s police chief and more than a dozen others on a bridge. Some had to be rescued by boat.

Ivan might not have wreaked havoc in the Pittsburgh area if the remains of Hurricane Frances hadn’t gotten here first. On Sept. 8, 2004, Frances drenched the region with the most rain in one day in 133 years (until Ivan). The system known as Ivan didn’t actually reach southwestern Pennsylvania. But moisture left over from Ivan collided with a cold front to dump 5.9 inches of rain on Pittsburgh in 24 hours, breaking the record set by Frances just nine days earlier.

We haven’t seen a rain storm of this magnitude since. Snow? Completely different story. But these hot and humid, or cool and crisp, mornings seem a lot more tolerable without massive precipitation. I know I always write a “Why Pittsburgh” blog weekly, but here’s “Why Pittsburgh”…storms like this are very few and far between, as the Pittsburgh area is one of the few places in the country safe from all major natural disasters. But sometimes there are, as they say, exceptions to every rule.

 

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