4 die in fire as floods hit Philadelphia area
More are feared missing after an explosion ravaged a flooded apartment complex. Dozens of people fled high water in Bucks and Montgomery Counties
The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 18, 2001
At least four people were killed and others were missing yesterday after the remnants of Tropical Storm Allison dumped up to 10 inches of rain on parts of the region, causing a deadly fire and widespread flooding.
In Upper Moreland Township, Montgomery County, police recovered four bodies in the charred remains of buildings in the Village Green apartment complex, which erupted in flames Saturday after an explosion triggered by flood waters.
Though firefighters rescued more than 30 residents from the blaze, rising water prevented them from battling the flames.
Upper Moreland police said yesterday that two or three people were unaccounted for and that they had not determined whether the people had been trapped inside the apartment complex.
"Everybody tells me this was much worse than [Hurricane] Floyd in terms of water and property damage and in terms of lives," Upper Moreland Police Chief William Moffett said.
The cause of the explosion was under investigation, though Moffett said the flood played a role. Natural gas has not been ruled out.
The storm also wrought havoc in other parts of Montgomery and Bucks Counties.
When the storm was at its height Saturday, about a dozen motorists were trapped on Route 611 in Horsham, Montgomery County, and had to be rescued by emergency teams.
In nearby Abington, people in about 50 swamped cars had to walk to safety, police said. Firefighters and police had to help some from their cars.
Water also flooded homes in low-lying areas of the counties, including in Abington, where residents of about a dozen homes had to evacuate. Throughout the area, police said, 60 houses sustained flood damage.
In Upper Moreland, dozens of residents of the Huntingdon Valley Club Condos were evacuated and sent to a Red Cross shelter at Keith Valley Middle School in Horsham.
About 200 families came through Red Cross shelters over the weekend, according to spokeswoman Omoiye Kinney. Twenty-seven families planned to stay overnight at the middle school last night.
Power outages from the storm were reported by about 70,000 customers in Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Philadelphia Counties, according to Peco Energy spokeswoman Vonda Paige. Late yesterday, the company said it had restored power to all but a handful.
The floods also caused disruptions in SEPTA service, shutting down the R2 Warminster, R5 Lansdale/Doylestown and R3 West Trenton trains.
Marko Bourne, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), said teams from the agency's eastern regional office worked with officials in Montgomery and Bucks Counties throughout the day yesterday to gauge the storm's damage.
Bourne said officials from PEMA would team up today with their counterparts from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct a joint preliminary damage assessment. The teams will inspect houses and apartment buildings, businesses and public facilities, including roadways and bridges.
The assessment, which could be completed tomorrow or Wednesday, will determine whether it is necessary to request federal assistance, Bourne said. PEMA will coordinate the effort and make a recommendation to Gov. Ridge within the next few days.
"It's a fairly compact area, so we are hoping it will not take too long to scope," Bourne said.
According to the National Weather Service, the hardest-hit areas were lower Montgomery County and the south-central portion of Bucks County. Total rainfall at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station was 10.16 inches. Doylestown recorded 9.35 inches.
In New Jersey, portions of the state were under flash-flood warnings into yesterday afternoon. Roadways flooded along coastal sections of Monmouth, Ocean and Atlantic Counties, and in Monmouth County, several people had to be rescued from their cars after being trapped in flood waters.
Philadelphia was spared major damage. Police reported that Lincoln Drive, the low-lying road that cuts through Germantown and Mount Airy, was the only major road closed yesterday due to flooding.
Meteorologist John Quagliariello of the National Weather Service said yesterday that the heavy rainfall was caused by a low-pressure system that was the remnant of Allison. The storm had a history of producing heavy rainfall since it formed June 5 off the coast of Texas.
The storm moved east across the Gulf Coast states, up through the Carolinas and into the mid-Atlantic over the last couple of days. It has been blamed for more than 30 deaths in the South.
But explanations offered little solace to the residents of the Village Green apartments yesterday.
Rescue workers with motorboats and canoes were called out around 8 p.m. Saturday to help evacuate residents when water began lapping at the first-floor apartments, according to Lt. Alex Levy of the Upper Moreland police.
The explosion occurred about 10 p.m., blowing out walls and severely damaging an apartment building, police said.
Rescue crews searched the complex for survivors and victims until 6 p.m. yesterday, and said they planned to resume their work at 10 a.m. today. Police said the bodies recovered were so badly charred that they could not determine the cause of death.
Corey Moore, a Village Green resident, said he could not shake the terror of Saturday night's flood and fire.
Moore; his wife, Vanessa; and their two daughters were trapped inside their apartment as the water rose quickly outside, reaching as high as Corey's neck.
As they frantically waved to police in rescue boats, they heard the huge explosion and saw flames shooting from several buildings away. They watched as the fire spread swiftly to neighboring buildings, coming closer to them.
They moved up to the building's second floor, where they gathered with other neighbors near a window until rescue boats arrived. Vanessa Moore and the children went in one boat, Corey Moore in another. In the confusion, they were separated.
"I found her and my daughters sitting on the side of the road. The girls were eating candy," Corey Moore said, adding that the family lost its belongings, its car and one of its cats. "The whole time, I was kind of shaking my head in disbelief. It was unreal."