Route 281 closed south of Confluence; Meyersdale 'lucky' after river recedes

David Hurst, The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
·3 min read

Mar. 2—Route 281 is closed near Confluence Borough due to the Youghiogheny's rising waters, Somerset County Department of Emergency Services Director Joel Landis said.

Officials took the step to close the road after the river spilled over a portion of the road before 8 a.m. near the highway's underpass just south of the borough.

The closure is also downstream of the borough.

Confluence fire crews were sent to the scene prior to the closure after one vehicle became disabled on the flooded road just prior to the closure, he added.

The river's flood stage is 12 feet and the waterway was at 11 feet 9 inches and rising Monday — a move that does not yet put homes at risk but creates a situation emergency responders are monitoring, Landis said.

He cautioned local motorists to avoid driving over flooding roadways, adding that many vehicles aren't as heavy as they were in years past.

The key message: "Turn around, don't drown," he said.

"It doesn't take much water to cause it to be stranded or even swept downstream," Landis said.

Meyersdale 'lucky'

A fast-rising Casselman River compelled Meyersdale responders to send out a late-night warning to residents within the community's flood zone to prepare, but the river crested just three inches short of flooding its banks around midnight and then began to subside early Monday, Fire Chief Mike Miller said.

It was part of a long night for the department, but one without injuries or rescue calls, he said.

The community appeared to be the hardest hit by a late winter storm that brought several inches of rain over 24 hours and melted much of the snow February brought in the weeks prior.

"We prepared and fortunately we didn't need to act on them," Miller said.

This was the first time Meyersdale responders used the county's new emergency alert system to notify residents of a weather emergency.

In doing so, a "CodeRed" message was sent to both cellphones and land lines within a three-mile radius of the area in danger of flooding, he said. Residents received the message just after 11 p.m.

It advised that residents between the river and Second Street, as well as North, Broadway, High and Charles streets to be prepared to evacuate, if necessary, and that the fire station would be available as a shelter, if needed.

At that point, the river was on pace to topple its banks at 2 or 3 a.m., he added.

"We didn't want to scare people. But we figured it would be better to prepare people ahead of time than potentially have to send one at 3 a.m. when the situation was potentially very dangerous," Miller said. "Fortunately, no one had to evacuate."

He acknowledges the 11 p.m call or text may have startled some residents.

"This is the first time we've used (the system) to alert people. We're urging people to do some research on it, get familiar with it, because it's something that's could be used again," Miller said. "It's to keep people safe."

Landis said Meyersdale's emergency alert was just the third weather-related emergency notification the county has issued since the system debuted in early 2019.

He said 2,297 people received a voice message about the flood risk, while 186 people received texts.

A report through CodeRed was used to verify the calls and texts were completed.

The county has continued to encourage county residents to register for CodeRed notifications — and 11,180 people and 1,680 businesses have already signed up.

Enrolling enables registrants to receive voice, text or email alerts about a list of emergencies, including evacuation notices, utility outages, water main breaks, fire, floods or chemical spills.

To learn more and register, visit www.co.somerset.pa.us/files/ema_files/register.pdf