Mom, Children Among 4 Killed In Washington Blvd. Flood

PITTSBURGH,None — Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials will try to figure out how to prevent a recurrence of the flash flooding that swamped cars in rush-hour traffic, killing two women and two children and forcing others to clamber onto vehicle roofs or swim to safety.

Two storms pounded the city Friday, overwhelming the drainage system and causing manhole covers to pop off the road, officials said. Water rose to 9 feet in some places along Washington Boulevard, a main road that runs near the Allegheny River.

"We'll sit down and brainstorm without pointing fingers and casting blame and see if we can come up with some solution," said Tom Palmosina, co-director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

Kimberly Griffith, of Plum, and her two children, Brenna, 12, and Mikaela, 8, were found dead inside their vehicle, police said. On Saturday, the fourth victim's body was pulled from the river. She was identified as Mary Saflin, 72, of Oakmont.

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The Griffiths were unable to escape their vehicle, which was completely submerged and pinned to a tree, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss said at a news conference.

Rescuers floated over the car without knowing it was below.

"The bottom of the boat didn't even scrape against the top of the car," said Raymond DeMichiei, deputy director of the city's Office of Emergency Management.

"I am deeply saddened by yesterday's tragic flash flooding, and my heartfelt sympathy goes out to the families of the four victims,” Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said in a statement Saturday. “I would like to commend public safety officials and residents for their heroic acts that resulted in 11 rescues. We will now turn our efforts to supporting the families affected by the tragedy, and in making sure this never happens again."

Officials said geography is part of the flooding problem on the roadway, since the boulevard is in the basin of a large watershed that the National Weather Service said covers about 2.4 square miles and gets runoff from surrounding neighborhoods, said Pittsburgh City Councilman Patrick Dowd.

"There are just massive amounts of storm water in that area," said Dowd, who sits on the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board. "It's a bowl."

The Plum Borough School District, where the children attended, released the following statement:

"We are shocked and saddened by the deaths of two of our students and their mother and extend our deepest sympathy to the Griffith family. In the days and weeks to come, we will remain attentive and responsive to the needs that emerge from this tragedy as we attempt to cope with this loss,” said Superintendent Dr. Lillian Naccarati.

Rescue crews used inflatable boats to reach marooned drivers, though some swam to safety on their own.

Rhodearland "Bob" Bailey, of Penn Hills, was rescued from the roof of his car.

"I can swim a little bit and was looking at a tree branch," Bailey said. "I heard one woman yelling for help, but the water was coming down so fast, I couldn't see. ... I've never seen nothing like this in my life. Lord have mercy."

The area received 2.1 inches of rain in an hour during the evening rush, said Rihaan Gangat, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. But an earlier storm meant the region was drenched by 3 to 4 inches of rain overall on Friday.

Harper said 18 vehicles were stranded in the high water, and 11 people were rescued. One of the rescued women required hospital treatment.

People were clinging to trees, poles and car roofs, officials said. One woman tried to scramble to the roof of her car, but the water was moving so fast, she was dragged along in it, then grabbed onto a truck.

"You started to see -- even a red dump truck floating," said Marion Marty, of Sarver. "I mean, I never saw anything like it before in my life."

"Manhole covers started popping up and it looked like the road exploded, and the waters came up really fast," said Tara Howes, 34, of Gibsonia. "I saw people swimming on the sides of the road. It was pretty scary."

Claudia Gallagher, who was driving at the height of the rainfall Friday, said she tried to get off the road as the water rose.

"We tried to drive up onto the curb, but the water had other ideas," Gallagher, 55, of West Mifflin, said.

Her car began to float, and she opened her window and climbed onto the roof. Many other drivers nearby were sitting atop their cars, too, she said.

The water had receded by Friday evening, but the mud-caked road will remain closed through Saturday as emergency crews work to clear all the stranded cars.

The flash floods hit an area that experienced serious flooding last month, and rushing water from a July 18 storm stranded motorists and caused a section of road to buckle.

Earlier Friday, another storm caused power outages that led the University of Pittsburgh to close for the day. Parts of Carlow and Carnegie Mellon universities also lost electricity.

Flights at Pittsburgh International Airport were grounded because of lightning just after 3 p.m., spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said.

Two hospitals operated on emergency power after rains flooded a substation in the city's Oakland neighborhood.

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