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Ernesto ripple effects might cause flooding in Tri-State

September 01, 2006|by DON AINES

TRI-STATE - Emergency management officials in West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania are bracing for the possibility of heavy rains today and Saturday from Tropical Storm Ernesto that could bring a repeat of the flooding that swept through the Tri-State area in late June.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin on Thursday afternoon declared a state of emergency in 13 counties, including Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties in the Eastern Panhandle, beginning at 8 this morning.

National Guardsmen and swift-water rescue teams are being prepositioned in the affected areas and utility companies have been placed on alert, according to a statement from the governor's office.

By Thursday night, a dozen West Virginia counties - including Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan in the Eastern Panhandle - had announced schools would be closed.

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"I am asking all West Virginians in the counties that may be impacted by this storm to take all possible precautions," Manchin said in the statement. "The rainfall associated with ... Ernesto has the potential to cause major flooding in several parts of our state."

"I strongly urge any residents or travelers who may be near any type of ... flood-prone areas to start their preparations early," Manchin said.

In Maryland

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency will raise its operational status to Level Two, which means increased staffing in the Maryland Joint Operations Center, at 7 a.m. today, according to a MEMA media advisory issued Thursday.

Hagerstown, Chambersburg, Pa. and Martinsburg, W.Va., can expect four to six inches of rain this morning into Saturday, said Carl Erickson, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.

Erickson called the passing storm an "in and out system." Most of the rain will fall in an eight-hour period and will probably cause widespread flooding, he said.

By Saturday afternoon, rain will taper off and the heaviest and steadiest rain will have passed through, he said.

Residents of Antietam Village in Funkstown watched Antietam Creek overflow into their mobile homes in late June. They are hoping the creek stays in its banks during this storm.

"We're hoping the creek is low enough now it can take it," Betty Marshall said Thursday as she prepared to mow her lawn.

In Pennsylvania

"We're still under the gun for the potential of in excess of six inches of rain in a 24-hour period," Franklin County (Pa.) Director of Emergency Services Jerry Flasher said Thursday afternoon.

Flasher warned that significant rainfall in a short period of time could lead to another disaster, including "areas along streams where the banks have been compromised by the June flooding." That includes three mobile home parks in Greene Township where residents had to be evacuated in June, he said.

"Residents along streams ... creeks and smaller rivers, as well as low-lying or poor drainage areas should remain alert for rapidly rising levels as heavy rainfalls begin," the National Weather Service advised.

"We are in the process of making contacts to make sure everything is lined up in case something does happen," Greene Township Supervisor Todd Burns said Thursday. That includes making sure all necessary personnel are available and contacting the Chambersburg Area School District and local churches in case emergency shelters are needed, he said.

The National Weather Service on Thursday issued a flash flood watch for portions of Southcentral Pennsylvania, including Franklin County. The advisory stated that six to 10 inches of rain is expected across the state.

County emergency officials have been in contact with the Red Cross, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and National Weather Service, Flasher said.

"As with any tropical storm, tropical depression or hurricane, it kind of has a mind of its own," Flasher said. The area could be spared serious flooding if Ernesto tracks to the east or west, he said.

The Waynesboro, Pa., Borough Council on Wednesday authorized borough staff to remove three 48-inch pipes under South Church Street that have caused flooding in nearby homes. The pipes were removed Thursday, according to Borough Council President Dick George.

Staff writer Erin Julius contributed to this story.

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