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June 17th, 2015 | In The News
June 16, 2015 | In The News
Written by Pamela Lehman for The Morning Call
Fast-moving storms Monday night dumped heavy rain across much of the Lehigh Valley, but hit especially hard in Bethlehem Township, where officials worked Tuesday to survey damage and repair roads torn apart by “raging rivers.”
Storm damage in the township along the Lehigh River appears significant, with portions of roads being washed away and peeled back to exposed dirt and clay, said Township Manager Melissa Shafer, who spent much of Tuesday assessing the damage.
“It’s amazing to see the power of water and what it can do,” Shafer said. “Areas of the roads are just peeled back and buckled. There are roads that just turned into a raging river.”
Shafer said there were a handful of sinkholes throughout the township. Several roads were closed Monday due to the heavy rains and most had re-opened Tuesday.
“Today, we are most focused on trying to repair, restore and rebuild,” she said Tuesday morning.
Sections of Wilson Avenue became a river with some residents unable to get to their homes Monday night, Shafer said.
“The cleanup now includes a lot of mud and debris that has to be cleared,” Shafer said. “It’s going to take a lot of work.”
The township has contracted with an excavation company to help complete emergency road repairs, Shafer said. No injuries were reported.
Monday’s drenching rains produced a giant sinkhole at the bottom of an 80-foot-tall PPL electric transmission tower on Clermont Avenue in neighboring Bethlehem, threatening to topple it and forcing the evacuation of two homes.
PPL filled the sinkhole with concrete about 7 a.m. Tuesday, according to Gloria Rivera of Clermont Avenue. She said PPL and city officials were returning to the scene every two or three hours Tuesday to check on the tower.
At the height of Monday’s storm, more than 3,200 Met-Ed customers in Northampton County were without power. Power for most of those customers had been restored by Tuesday afternoon.
On Tuesday morning, PPL had reported about 60 people without power in Bethlehem and seven in Salisbury Township. By the afternoon, power for nearly all those customers had been restored.
The heaviest downpour passed over Lehigh Valley International Airport between 7 and 9 p.m., according to AccuWeather. Paul Walker, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said 0.93 inches rain fell overnight. Walker said the average rainfall for the entire month of June is 4.31 inches.
Parts of Bethlehem that often flood during heavy rain — including sections of the historic downtown and northern neighborhoods — had some flooding issues, city Fire Chief Robert Novatnack said Tuesday.
A Garrison Street home had damage to its foundation and sidewalk, and both utility and city workers were called to help make repairs, Novatnack said.
Parts of Illicks Mill and the area behind Hotel Bethlehem had flooding damage, Novatnack said. Most of that damage included mud and silt cleanup, he said.
Charlene Donches Mowers, president of Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites, said some water got into the bottom of the historic Tannery and Waterworks along the Monocacy Creek in the historic downtown, but the water quickly receded and there was no damage.
She credited the city with removing a dam along the Monocacy Creek, blunting the damage.
“We are very, very fortunate,” Mowers said. “We have some mud to clean up, but no damage.”
The sinkhole at the PPL tower in front of 2015 Clermont Ave., at the border of Bethlehem and Bethlehem Township, was first reported at 7:50 p.m.
Bethlehem fire officials Monday night notified 20-30 households of the problem and suggested they evacuate. Only the two families closest to the tower left. Officials said they were concerned if the tower fell, the downed wires could affect two full blocks of homes. The two families were back in their homes Tuesday.
The intense storm focused on the southwest side of the township.
A gravel and stone portion of Hope Road that leads to the Bethlehem Boating Club’s property along the Lehigh River was washed away. The club’s yeoman, Allen Koszi Jr., said runoff water is funneled through a railroad overpass where the gravel road was washed away.
“We can’t get out there [to the club],” Koszi said. “No vehicles can get to it.”
The heavy downpour created flooding in areas mostly with poor drainage. Walker, the AccuWeather meteorologist, said while Wednesday’s forecast is for less humid conditions, another storm could arrive Thursday.
Walker said it’s early to predict exactly where Tropical Storm Bill will strike. The storm made landfall in Texas on Tuesday afternoon and would move east. Combined with a cold front, Walker said, there will be heavy thunderstorms in the mid-Atlantic region Thursday and Thursday night.
— Reporter Nicole Radzievich contributed to this story.
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