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DEVASTATING flooding in Pennsylvania raises questions about low-lying development


HATBORO, Pa. (AP) _ Elisabeth Saboe used to sit on her back porch and listen to the springtime chorus of frogs in the swamp below.

About four decades ago, the swamp was drained and houses were built.

``I don't know who got the brilliant idea to fill it in,'' Saboe, 83, said Monday from her home in suburban Philadelphia. ``We talked about it, the neighbors. We said, 'Why are they building houses in a swamp?'''

With those same houses now ruined by Tropical Storm Allison, distressed homeowners are asking the same thing.

Two days after southeastern Pennsylvania was hit with more than 10 inches of rain, officials released a preliminary assessment Monday of the storm's toll. It included the flooding of some 600 homes, apartments and businesses with 181 sustaining major damage and another 74 destroyed.

The numbers are expected to rise as officials complete a detailed survey this week. Gov. Tom Ridge will then decide whether to seek a disaster declaration from the federal government, making homeowners eligible for low-interest loans or grants.

In addition to the property damage, at least 48 deaths have been blamed on Allison since it made landfall in Texas on June 6, forcing thousands from their homes and causing at least 22 deaths in Texas and Louisiana.

As the storm slowly moved east and north, Allison was blamed for nine more lives in Florida and nine in North Carolina. A Virginia Beach, Va., woman was killed by a tree toppling in waterlogged ground. The death count in the Philadelphia region rose to seven Monday after the body of a hospital security guard was found in his car Monday; six others died in a fiery explosion at an apartment house Saturday.

As the grim recovery efforts came to an end Monday, flooded-out Pennsylvania homeowners were just starting what promised to be a long ordeal.

In the hardest-hit communities, residents swept, mopped, hosed down, salvaged what they could and dragged the rest to the curb to be picked up by trash trucks.

One couple diligently cleaned their newly remodeled house till it was sparkling, only to have it condemned by building officials.

``The water is in the walls, the insulation. The floors are buckling,'' said Roland Dudley, 73.

The flooding has become a tiresome ritual for Carol Brumbaugh, whose house was built on swampland.

Brumbaugh said she and her husband, Chuck, didn't know their house was in a flood plain until they had put down their 10 percent deposit.

``We tried to back out, but a lawyer said we would probably lose our deposit,'' Brumbaugh said.

So they stayed, and for 18 years they have dealt with the consequences of repeat flooding from a creek some 200 feet from their property. This weekend's deluge came with such force that it ripped a 15-foot chunk out of their foundation.

They have flood insurance, but are hoping for a buyout from the federal government. With no running water, no plumbing, no electricity, their house is unlivable.

``I'm not going to stick this house on some other sucker. I don't think that's moral or ethical,'' said Brumbaugh, 53, whose two-story Colonial had almost four feet of water on the first floor.

There is hope the government may see it their way.

``There isn't anything that's going to work, and rather than rebuild the properties, maybe the smartest thing to do is acquire them so they won't have this continual threat of being flooded out,'' said Lower Moreland Township Manager Brian Mook.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to recommend buyouts for Brumbaugh's flood-prone neighborhood, built before there were regulations against building houses in a flood plain.

Relief won't come soon enough for Linda Engelhard, 41, who lost most of her possessions in the weekend flood.

``I was excited about getting my house paid off,'' she said. ``But now it's not worth anything.''

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