As the city begins to calculate and estimate upward of $300,000 in damage to fully restore several streets following flash floods Saturday - money not reserved in the city budget - several residents on Elmira Street who sustained damage to basements and property gathered Thursday afternoon to vent their frustrations at Mayor Gabriel J. Campana and his staff.
At least 20 people gathered about 1:45 p.m. along a tree-lined section of the street, most of them homeowners who wanted to know what took so long to get city crews to clear the trash racks at the northern end of Grafius Run, a tributary that flows into the city and splits in two branches.
Most demanded Campana not give excuses, but make a promise to do whatever it takes to prevent the stream from overflowing during future heavy rains.
Tom Gotshall, city employee, removes debris from a storm drain on West Edwin Street near its intersection with Elmira Street Thursday afternoon. Gotshall and his co-worker Adam Winder then used the truck in the background to remove dirt and smaller particles of debris.
"It's difficult to watch damage for an hour occurring," said a woman who lives on the block. "There is a protocol in place to get some bodies here and that never happened."
One resident said he began calling for emergency assistance at 6 p.m. but by then the creek was flowing down the street.
"What happens after 5 p.m. when you need someone here?" a woman asked Campana.
The force of water picked up slabs of the street as recorded on video shared by the residents.
A woman showed a small car that needed to be pulled out of the raging water.
Video footage clearly showed the stream flowing toward other neighborhoods.
"I can expect water in basements," a woman, who didn't reveal her name, told Campana. "But I don't expect to be knocked off my feet when I weigh 200 pounds."
For the past 20 years, according to Frank Moltz of 1601 Elmira St., whenever it rains hard the first thing he does is look out to see a light on the front-end loader backhoe stationed at the Grafius Run trash rack.
"I also look to see if the log loader is working," he said of a separate branch of the stream. "Normally, they are on the job," Moltz said. "Before this crisis, it didn't happen."
Grado acknowledged the city has access to a key to start a backhoe owned by a private construction company.
William C. Wright, general manager of the Streets and Parks Department, said the rainfall was unprecedented. He maintains he received absolutely no clear warning about the potential volume of rain from the thunderstorm.
"I can't put people out there at time and a half pay," he told the crowd.
Wright said at 6:23 p.m. Saturday, he received a first call from a police watch commander about a downed tree at Wayne Avenue and Fourth Street.
"Minutes later," Wright said, "I got calls about flooded intersections and, not seeing what's occurring right here, I called more people in."
Wright claimed at 6:40 p.m. that night he received an alarm the Grafius Run bank was half-full.
A woman asked whether the heavy equipment that clears trash and picks up logs and debris was operable.
"I heard when it was started up, a hydraulic line blew," a woman said.
As for what residents should be doing, Todd C. Heckman, assistant fire chief, said they need to contact him if they had property damage.
Heckman said that may be done by calling 329-3820.
As for financial assistance in dealing with damage, Heckman cautioned the already upset residents not to get their hopes up because he didn't anticipate the disaster would rise to the level required for assistance from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Gerry Fausnaught, a former City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate who lives on the street, said a lack of planning ahead for natural disasters and coordinating with the county and township falls squarely on the city's shoulders.
"We need to find a way to fix that collaborative problem with lots of planning," she said.