3 die in Pittsburgh flash flooding; cars submerged

August 19, 2011 - 9:50 PM
Piittsburgh Flooding

Pittsburgh emergency responders throw a life vest to Robert Bailey, 80, who climbed onto the roof of his car after being caught in a flash flood, Friday, Aug. 19, 2011, in Pittsburgh. Three people died in a flash flood on Friday after heavy rains submerged cars in the area around Washington Boulevard, which runs parallel to the Allegheny River in the city's Highland Park neighborhood, after thunderstorms dropped up to 3 inches of rain in an hour. (AP Photo/Tribune Review, Chris Langer) PITTSBURGH OUT

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A pair of powerful storms that pounded Pittsburgh on Friday cut electricity to hospitals and universities and submerged several vehicles in a flash flood that killed three people.

Authorities said they were searching for other possible victims in the city's Highland Park neighborhood, where muddy cars remained stranded on Washington Boulevard after the water had receded into the Allegheny River.

Rescue crews used inflatable boats to reach marooned drivers, some of whom said the water rose 6 feet and covered their vehicles. Some drivers swam to safety; Rhodearland "Bob" Bailey, 79, of Penn Hills, was rescued from the roof of his car.

"I can swim a little bit and was looking at a tree branch," Bailey told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I heard one woman yelling for help, but the water was coming down so fast, I couldn't see. ... I've never seen nothing like this in my life. Lord have mercy."

The flooding occurred in the late afternoon after the city was drenched with up to 3 inches of rain in an hour, the National Weather Service reported.

The three victims, whose names were not released, were found in the same minivan, according to KDKA-TV. Emergency officials said a fourth person was missing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Tara Howes, 34, of Gibsonia, told the Tribune-Review that "manhole covers started popping up and it looked like the road exploded and the waters came up really fast. I saw people swimming on the sides of the road. It was pretty scary."

The flash floods hit an area that experienced serious flooding last month. Claudia Gallagher, 55, of West Mifflin, was driving north on Washington Boulevard at the height of rainfall and tried to get off the road as the water rose.

"We tried to drive up onto the curb, but the water had other ideas," she told the Post-Gazette.

Her car began to float, and she opened her window and climbed onto the roof. Many other drivers nearby were sitting atop their cars, too, she said.

Earlier Friday, another storm caused power outages that led the University of Pittsburgh to close for the day. Parts of Carlow and Carnegie Mellon universities also lost electricity.

Flights at Pittsburgh International Airport were grounded because of lightning just after 3 p.m., spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said.

Two hospitals operated on emergency power after rains flooded a substation in the city's Oakland neighborhood.