Search called off for man swept into floodwaters near Beech Creek

mdawson@centredaily.comJune 29, 2013 

— Rescue crews called off their search Friday night for a Beech Creek man who was swept into floodwaters while trying to retrieve a four-wheeler during the torrential downpours Thursday that turned creeks into wide, raging rivers and washed out numerous local roads.

State police at Lamar had not identified the 86-year-old man, who was seen by a family member as he was carried into the swollen Little Sugar Run around 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Search crews ended the search at 7:30 p.m. Friday and would not resume Saturday, police said.

Locals here, including a family member, said the missing man is Claude Rupert, who lives along Little Sugar Run Road. Little Sugar Run runs along that road and empties into Beech Creek near the border of Centre and Clinton counties.

Wilcox said the search spanned an area encompassing Little Sugar Run, Beech Creek, Bald Eagle Creek and the Susquehanna River. Wilcox said he would be surprised if the man was carried all the way to the Susquehanna River, which meets Bald Eagle Creek east of Lock Haven.

A state police helicopter searched the area along Bald Eagle Creek to the Susquehanna, and swift-water rescue squads from Cambria and Allegheny counties wrapped up searching Little Sugar Run and Beech Creek by Friday afternoon, Wilcox said.

“We have hit that hard in the water and on the ground,” he said.

Rosemary Kerstetter, who lives along Monument-Orviston Road near the intersection with Little Sugar Run Road, said Rupert knows everyone in Beech Creek. He also raised white-tailed deer, she said.

Wilcox said crews would check ponds that had been taken over by the floodwaters Thursday night.

The search began Thursday night and continued through 3 a.m. Friday, then resumed later in the morning.

Little Sugar Run Road was closed Friday because the water washed out a bridge.

State Route 150 north of Beech Creek was closed, too, because water had flooded the road. Rob Moore, the assistant chief of the Beech Creek-Blanchard fire company, said crews were working to repair the road, which connects Beech Creek with Mill Hall. The road reopened shortly before midnight Friday, the state Department of Transportation said.

Bald Eagle Mountain Road was closed, too, as it was covered with water, Moore said.

The storm drove into the area around 6 p.m. Thursday, and it dropped between 5 and 7 inches of rain in an hour’s time, according to Clinton County Emergency Management Director Kevin Fanning.

Elsewhere around Beech Creek on Friday, residents were cleaning up from the storm. They talked about water that turned streets into vast expanses of standing water and flooded their basements.

At Queen Bee Collectibles on Route 150, Melanie Rupert was clearing out the basement of her shop that had been overrun by water. Her husband’s uncle is the man crews were searching for.

The front yard of the shop now has a deep sinkhole, and the rains wiped out several feet of the bank of a small stream the flows beside the shop. A tree along the stream bank was uprooted, and it narrowly missed falling on the shop’s roof.

Rupert, who lives on Monument-Orviston Road, tried to get back to her shop during the downpour Thursday night, but she encountered one road closure after another. It took her about an hour to travel the mile from her home to the shop, she said.

“There was so much runoff,” she said. “It looked like a river.”

Closer to Blanchard, over the line in Centre County, a Norfolk Southern train was stopped on tracks along Railroad Street. Ahead of the train, the earth beneath the tracks had washed out, and the company had the train stop, said Norfolk Southern spokesman David Pidgeon.

The train would be pulled back to Altoona, he said.

Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT.

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