4 Flash Flood Deaths in Pittsburgh: Why You Should Never Drive Through Standing Water

June 28th, 2018

By Dean I Weitzman, Esq.


It might just look like a small amount of water across the road, but standing water over a roadway can kill you.

Earlier this month, four people died in Pittsburgh, including a 45-year-old mother and her two young daughters, when rainwater overwhelmed a sewer system and caused flash flooding which overran local roadways, according to a story in The Toledo Blade. The car carrying the woman and her daughters was swept up on a road by the floodwaters and pinned to a tree, while a 72-year-old woman drowned separately when she was caught up in the flooding.

These kinds of deaths should be taken as a reminder that danger lurks in places that just don’t seem dangerous.

Vehicles are overwhelmed by floodwaters in this stock photograph. Image credit: ©

Vehicles are overwhelmed by floodwaters in this stock photograph. Image credit: ©

More than a dozen vehicles were affected by the flash floods that day in Pittsburgh, causing people to abandon their vehicles and swim for their lives, according to the Blade story.

The incidents are causing officials in the city to at least consider a warning system that could notify people of similar flash flood dangers in the area before they occur, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.  “The force of water in the system lifted a number of 300-pound manhole covers into the air, and the four-lane road was submerged in more than nine feet of rushing water,” the story reported. The affected road was shut by the city a month earlier because of another flash flood incident that stranded several cars but caused no injuries, the story said.

Pittsburgh is located where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers converge, which can overwhelm them when rainfall causes the rivers to swell.

There are lessons to be learned from these tragedies.

First, drivers must never drive their vehicles across standing water on roadways. The problem, according to the National Weather Service, is that you don’t really know how deep or fast-moving the water is when you try to traverse it across a roadway. Without that information, you can endanger yourself, your passengers and first-responders who arrive to try to rescue you.

To help remind drivers of these dangers, the National Weather Service has created its “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” safety campaign to make pedestrians and drivers more aware of the dangers of flash flooding on roadways.

“The reason that so many people drown during flooding is because few of them realize the incredible power of water,” according to the National Weather Service Web site. “A mere six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes only two feet of rushing water to carry away most vehicles. This includes pickups and SUVs. If you come to an area that is covered with water, you will not know the depth of the water or the condition of the ground under the water. This is especially true at night, when your vision is more limited.”

Here are some safety tips from the program:

  • Monitor the NOAA Weather Radio, or your favorite news source for vital weather related information.
  • If flooding occurs, get to higher ground. Get out of areas subject to flooding. This includes dips, low spots, canyons, washes etc.
  • Avoid areas already flooded, especially if the water is flowing fast. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams. Turn Around, Don’t Drown.
  • Road beds may be washed out under flood waters. NEVER drive through flooded roadways. Turn Around, Don’t Drown.
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, particularly during threatening conditions.
  • Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

“Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other severe weather related hazard,” according to the National Weather Service. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water.”

More deaths occur due to people walking into flood waters when they underestimate the force and power of the water. “Many of the deaths occur in automobiles as they are swept downstream,” the agency reported. “Of these drownings, many are preventable, but too many people continue to drive around the barriers that warn you the road is flooded.”

We here at MyPhillyLawyer want to remind you that flash floods are not to be taken lightly.

Here in the Philadelphia area, we are affected by flooding along the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, as well as many smaller local creeks and waterways.

We all need to be more aware and careful of the dangers that are created when flooding occurs.

There could be lawsuits filed in Pittsburgh in connection with the recent flash floods there, especially because the city is now discussing the creation of a possible warning system which speaks to the dangers of the present conditions.

If you or anyone in your family is ever seriously injured in such an incident, you should consider speaking with an attorney to learn about your rights and possible damages.

In the meantime, drive safely and remember to drive around standing water during flooding conditions. Your life may depend on it.

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