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Recovery begins in Elk County after massive flooding
Updated: Thursday, May 22 2014, 12:35 PM EDT
By: Marc Stempka
RIDGWAY, Pa. -- Residents in Elk County are working to recover and clean up after heavy rains brought water into their streets, homes and businesses.
The hours of heavy rain early Wednesday morning led to the Clarion River overflowing its banks, spilling feet of water throughout several communities, including Johnsonburg and Ridgway.
According to the National Weather Service, the flood stage for the Clarion River at Johnsonburg is 7 feet. Wednesday the river crested at 8.8 feet. In Ridgway, flood stage is 16 feet for the Clarion River. On Wednesday, it crested at 21.6 feet.
Further down the river at Cooksburg, the Clarion River crested at 18.6 feet Wednesday, according to the NWS. Flood stage there is 13 feet.
As the fog lifted and the sun rose over Ridgway Thursday, residents were already beginning to move throughout town and begin the cleanup work.
Approximately 125 people had to be evacuated from homes and apartments in Ridgway Wednesday, with many of them seeking shelter at the Ridgway Fire Department's central station on North Broad Street.
The fire hall suffered minor flood damage, but was able to open its doors to those in need.
One of those residents was Joan Tompkins. She was told to leave her home late Wednesday morning.
"The firemen were so responsive," Tompkins said. "Like I said, the two things [that worried] us were the flooded first floor and no lights."
Next door to the fire hall is the Ridgway YMCA, which had several inches of water fill the lower levels.
Further down Broad Street is the Ridgway Sheetz, which suffered significant flood damage.
Another hard-hit area was West Main Street, where several businesses suffered significant damage and many employees needed to be rescued.
The NAPA Auto Parts store had both front windows blown out by the flood waters and had several inches throughout the store. Despite the damage, the owner said he intends to be open for business Thursday.
Nearby NAPA is the Ridgway VFW. Managers do not believe they'll be able to reopen any time soon. Officials said the club lost a refrigerator and several supplies in the flooding.
Across the street from the NAPA store is the Rite Aid pharmacy. As the flood waters were rising on Wednesday, four employees needed to be rescued from the building as they were working to save medications and supplies. The water reportedly came up as high as the pharmacy counter.
Further down West Main Street is the Ridgway True Value. The building sits at the end of the bridge that crosses the Clarion River. As waters started to quickly rise and spill into town, seven employees needed to be rescued by boat from the store.
As quickly as the water washed through town, officials said there were no injuries and no loss of life during the flooding.