Residents want compensation
“There’s no way to stop this type of natural disaster,” said Tim Duncan, the city’s risk manager. He recommended people prepare by insuring their properties.
Residents complained flood insurance is prohibitively expensive, almost impossible to get and does not cover damage to basements.
Some maintained the city should pay them retribution for their losses.
“We want to be compensated,” said Sharon Reyes of the 500 block of N. 18th Street. “We deserve to be compensated. And the City of Allentown should take responsibility.”
Duncan said it’s a common misconception that local government is responsible and should pay for damages. “Since the city cannot provide financial assistance, it is important for you as a homeowner and business owner to be properly prepared.”
How much rain?
Young reported that a total 3.69 inches of rain usually falls during the entire month of August. But he said this year more than four inches of rain fell just on Aug. 28-29.
Young said those amounts were recorded at Lehigh Valley International Airport. He believes much more rain fell in the West End and center city. The storms that hit two weeks ago were localized and variable, said Young. “A lot of areas got hit hard, some areas hardly at all.”
It was raining so hard that night that you could not see a few feet in front of you, said one West End resident. She reported more than 12 inches of rainwater were measured in a large empty trash bin after the storm.
Nationwide, said Young, stormwater sewer systems in residential areas of cities are designed for 10-year storms – meaning the kind of big storm that only comes along once every 10 years. He added: “If this area was hit with 12 inches of rain, that exceeded the 100-year storm.”
Storm water systems are not designed to handle all storms, such as the torrential downpours described by residents, explained Craig Messinger, deputy public works director.
But residents said something is wrong with that system when floods occur over and over in the same area of the city.
Bottlenecks in the storm sewer system?
Tannenbaum said the city developed a plan to fix the sewers in that area in January 1985. Stein named several improvements that were recommended in that plan but never made.
Tannenbaum indicated there are at least two major bottlenecks, where storm water flows from larger pipes into small pipes, which causes it to back up on streets and worsens flooding.
One problem area was identified as sewer pipes running for three blocks from 21st and Allen to 18th and Allen.
Another is three blocks of Andrew Street, where 78-inch diameter sewer pipe runs underground. Upstream and downstream from that section are rectangular drains, called box culverts, that are six feet high and eight feet wide.
Those storm sewer lines were installed in the late 1920s, said Young after the meeting, adding he doesn’t know why that section is different.
Manuel Quintana, who lives in the 2100 block of W.Allen Street, said that night he tried waving down three police cars to help direct traffic congestion caused by people rushing through the rain to leave Allentown Fair on flooded streets. He said he made eye contact with all of those police officers, but they kept going. “So I stood in the middle of the street, directing traffic.”
Other neighbors shoveled tightly-packed trash off storm sewer grates so water could recede.
Fire Chief Robert Scheirer assured residents that city fire trucks are designed to go through a couple of feet of water, but not through four feet of water.
However, Scheirer said those trucks carry enough hose to fight a fire by getting as close as they can and fire fighters then dragging hoses. He said the fire department responded to nearly 30 calls in the West End that night. “I can assure you if there was a fire that evening, we would put it out. We are there to take care of you. And we took care of many people that evening.”
The chief said he had water damage at his own property. “I know exactly how you feel because I’m in the same situation. The insurance isn’t covering any of my damage as well.”