Troubles from Hurricane Ivan Flooding Yet to Recede

Article excerpt

Etna has a hole in a storm sewer on Ganster Street that will cost about $80,000 to repair.

Carnegie resident Bill Evans has a kitchen that needs to be fixed. Millvale is just now putting in new street lights. A family of Nicaraguan immigrants is striving to revive their restaurant.

What these seemingly disparate cases have in common is Hurricane Ivan.

Nearly four years after the remnants of the storm inundated communities across the region, governments, businesses and residents are still coping with damage and paying to rebuild.

Etna property owners have to pay a 2.5-mill tax increase this year because the borough used up its savings after the flood. The rate means the owner of a $75,000 house will pay an additional $187 in borough taxes, an increase of 38 percent. Assessment reductions given to flood victims by Allegheny County have cost the borough about $70,000 each year since the flood.

"That's a lot of money for a community like ours to make up," borough Manager Mary Ellen Ramage said. "We had some surplus over the years built up. It was small, but that's what we used to get by the last four years. We did not raise taxes until this year, but it ate up all our surplus. If something substantial would happen, we would really be in a predicament."

About a dozen Squirrel Hill homeowners agreed to pool $150,000 to stabilize a hillside that started to slide after Ivan.

The remnants of the hurricane dropped nearly 6 inches of rain in the Pittsburgh area in 24 hours on Sept. 17, 2004, according to the National Weather Service. It followed nearly 4 inches of rain that fell from the remnants of Hurricane Francis on Sept. 8.

Allegheny County reduced assessments on 4,857flood-damaged parcels in 14 municipalities after the flood, said Kevin Evanto, spokesman for county Chief Executive Dan Onorato. Properties flooded above the first floor were given 40 percent breaks, while those with water at least 6 feet deep in basements were given a 30 percent reduction.

Since then, assessments on 1,796 of those properties have increased because of repairs or appeals, 283 decreased further, and seven no longer exist, Evanto said. The remaining have not been repaired or owners have not appealed their assessments.

Leaders in flooded communities said some residents moved out for drier ground, although they won't know an exact number until the 2010 Census.

"We do have vacant properties. Not everything is flood-related. A lot of them are coming back," Millvale Manager Virginia Pucci said. "I don't think we have as many vacant properties as we did."

The flood led to an increase in renters over homeowners in some areas. Pat Norris said it happened in her Millvale neighborhood, where she has owned her home for 42 years.

"Nobody wants to buy a house down here," she said. "I'd like to sell mine. As soon as they know you're in the flood area, forget it, they don't want it."

The Lower Allison Park neighborhood of Hampton and part of the Fall Run area of Shaler have been lost, because the townships used state and federal money to buy homes considered better torn down than left to flood again.

Henrietta Hack, 58, and her mother, Dorothy, 88, were voluntarily bought out of their flooded home in Fall Run near Pine Creek and moved to an apartment five miles away in Hampton, where they have been since June 2005. After the flood, Hack never let her mother see the home she lived in for 60 years.

"We're very happy where we are," Hack said. …