As Wednesday dawned with clear skies, officials throughout the Pennsylvania suburbs breathed a collective sigh of relief. But their work was just beginning.
Isaias tore through the northern and western suburbs Tuesday, bringing powerful winds that caused widespread damage to homes and businesses, and torrential rain that swelled creeks and streams to record-setting levels.
The National Weather Service confirmed that two tornadoes touched down in the region during the storm, one in Doylestown that sheared the roof off a building at a hospital, and another in Worcester Township, Montgomery County.
Hundreds of people had to be rescued from homes rapidly filling with water, officials said. And one death was reported: 5-year-old Eliza Talal, who wandered away from her home in Towamencin Township about noon Tuesday, according to state police. Rescue crews found the girl’s body Wednesday morning near the Towamencin Creek, not far from her home in Montgomery County.
In Delaware County, rescues were happening so quickly that some departments didn’t have time to enter them in the system, according to Timothy Boyce, director of the county’s emergency services department. Responders just pulled people to safety on their way to or from other calls for help.
One of those rescues came at Samantha McGovern’s basement-level apartment in Morton.
McGovern, 34, moved into the unit about a month ago with her two daughters after separating from her husband. But the new beginning for her was interrupted Tuesday when her older daughter frantically alerted her to a strange sight: water seeping up from the carpet.
As time passed, the water rose. It poured in from under the front door and spewed out from electrical outlets. Within 10 minutes, it had reached McGovern’s knees, she said Wednesday.
When she tried to leave, her door wouldn’t open. It was jammed into its frame by the pressure from the water.
For her children’s sake, she said, “I kept my cool.”
“They were on the sofa, and I told them, ‘Just stay here, it’s just water, you guys are good,‘” she said. “But inside, I felt like I was losing it.”
Choking back panic, she called 911, then placed another call to a friend. Minutes later, a rescue team of firefighters from four towns broke through her front door. Water poured in, rising to her waist. But she and her daughters made it out without injury.
“I don’t think I feel the full effects of it yet,” McGovern said. “But I’m just grateful that the girls are safe and I have good people around me.”
John Bansall, assistant chief of the Morton-Rutledge Fire Company, said water from a creek behind McGovern’s apartment complex caused the bulk of the flooding. She and her daughters were among about 10 people to be pulled from basement apartments. An additional 20 or so were evacuated from the upper floors, he added.
Similar evacuations were taking place at the same time in Bucks County, where about 150 people had to be rescued from their homes, emergency services director Scott Forster said. A majority of the evacuations took place in flooded areas in the northern part of the county, including Quakertown and Sellersville
“It was almost in Bucks County like we had two different storms,” Forster said. “We had a significant wind event in the southern half of the county and a flash flood in [the] upper half.”
Elsewhere, residents in low-lying townships and boroughs spent the morning bailing out their homes.
In Montgomery County, the Perkiomen Creek crested at 19.14 feet, a foot higher than the last record, set in 1935. Delaware County’s Chester and Ridley Creeks also surged during the storm, clogged by debris swept up from nearby homes, businesses and construction sites. Maintenance crews were stunned to see a full-size shipping container lodged underneath a bridge in Lansdowne.
In Delaware County, entire neighborhoods in Darby Borough and Colwyn were devastated, Boyce said. The areas were already hit hard by unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic.