For Drivers, Flood Came With Stunning Speed
Several other vehicles and mine drove through water that was starting to flow across DuBois’ streets as the June 27 storm’s 6.5 inches flooded DuBois.
A deep visceral need to get home, and the difficulty of making decisions as circumstances changed before our eyes.
I didn’t see anyone driving through already-barricaded streets as I made what turned out to be a near 360-degree swing through town just ahead of disaster. But some of us cut it a bit too close.
I had come into DuBois via the Route 255 exit of Interstate 80 at about 1:15 p.m. intending to drive to Murrays Honda to get my car inspected.
That was at just about the time that the rains turned into floods.
Two or 3 inches of water had edged onto the roadway beside the mall entrance, not flowing or moving, just backing up from the wetlands nearby.
That water met the definition of “puddle,” not “stream.”
So we drove through it, the northbound drivers still on just wet pavement.
The wipers were on full-fast, but not keeping up. I marveled as a huge patch of sod, probably 20 feet wide and 15 feet tall, detached itself from the bank beside Morningside Cemetery, where sewer work had caused it to be planted recently, and slid onto the roadway.
As I drove into town, the rainstorm that left a total of 3.5 inches at our home north of Brookville stalled over DuBois, dumping the 6 inches that has traditionally brought flooding, and adding another half-inch for good measure – coming down by the bucketful.
At Shaffer Road, a firefighter firmly motioned to me to turn left onto Shaffer Road, because Route 255 was ponding. Fine; I was headed that way anyhow.
I still thought this was just a rainstorm.
Getting through town via Maple Avenue and Brady Street, I was vaguely disconcerted by the open doors and empty truck bays at the Volunteers station of the DuBois Volunteer Fire Department. They were out, so there was trouble somewhere.
Near the Sandy Bridge, my old Pentz Run Avenue neighborhood, water was gushing up around a dislodged manhole.
South of town, where Routes 219 and 119 diverge, came the first sign of real trouble, a stream of water not lying on the roadway but flowing across it.
Cars stopped in front of me, perhaps a half-dozen, and about two dozen northbound cars were creeping along in the other lane.
One by one, the cars were getting through OK, and my destination, Murrays Honda, was just 100 feet or so further down.
We drove through it, causing wavelets in the 50-foot stretch of moving water, but I noticed it wasn’t yet up to the floorboards of the other cars.
I sighed in relief and pulled into Murrays Honda – a darkened Murrays Honda.
“Out of power?”
“I’ll call later!” I tried to leave.
In just those few minutes, the torrent crossing Route 119 had deepened. So I headed south, thinking “gasoline”- and saw what looked to be an out-of-power Sheetz station at the Route 322 intersection. I couldn’t tell for sure because of the driving rain, but I turned right, up the hill to Main Street Extension, intending to head to Interstate 80 and home.
The last little square in my digital fuel gauge disappeared, leaving me “running on fumes.”
Main Street, traversing a hillside, was still mostly passable.
In town, I drove past the flooded Main Street Mall and its Giant Eagle supermarket, and then turned right onto DuBois Avenue.
At Sandy Street, there was more flowing water, and something else: An Adrian/Sandy Township fire truck, and firefighters starting to move “road closed” barricades.
All of us saw that, and none of us wanted to be trapped.
We drove through it. Had a firefighter motioned “Stop,” I would have done so, of course. But they didn’t, so we kept moving.
As I crossed the bridge above Sandy Lick Creek near the YMCA, I looked at the water level. I had been flooded basement-full twice in 1996 while living along Pentz Run.
“This is worse,” I said aloud. That house, I was sure, would have first-floor water this time.
I made it to the gas stations near Interstate 80, gassed up, and had an uneventful trip back to Brookville except for the one-lane crawl. Though construction barricades had been set up, no work at all had started. We could have used that extra lane.
What is a puddle and what is a too-swift stream? That Thursday, the status of the water was changing before our eyes. I made it. Others’ luck ran out as their cars stalled or started to float.
The need to get home is powerful. Fast-moving water is powerful – and deadly. We lucked out, and some of us pushed our luck in the process.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.