OH braces for more flooding

Faith-based and other voluntary organizations provide aid to flood survivors

BY JOHN PAPE | FINDLAY, OH | March 6, 2011



"We haven't had flooding like this in five years, so I hope we don't get it twice in one week"

—Tom Koscielski


Even before they could begin to clean up the mess from last week’s round of severe weather, residents in Ohio’s Cuyahoga River Valley were bracing for yet another round of expected heavy rains and additional flooding.

Hundreds of homeowners spent the weekend cleaning up after last week’s flooding, tossing out ruined appliances, furniture and personal belongings. Many homes will remain uninhabitable for the foreseeable future after floodwaters ruined furnaces that will still be needed for expected colder weather.

The flooding was triggered by heavy rainfall coupled with the melting of a heavy snowfall that fell two weeks earlier. The combination caused a sharp rise on the Cuyahoga River, as well as rivers and streams across much of Ohio, as well as parts of Indiana and the Midwest.

The Red Cross opened four shelters in northern Ohio and, at last report, was sheltering a total of 32 flood victims. The shelters were opened at the Hancock County Agency on Aging in Findlay, Dry Lane Construction in La Rue, the Trinity United Methodist Church in Ottawa and the United Methodist Church in Mansfield.

Ohio VOAD reported they were receiving numerous calls for assistance for debris removal. The calls for assistance are being coordinated through Lutheran Social Services.

A number of local Ohio churches have mobilized members to help flood victims in their respective areas. According to Jim Ditzler, of the United Church of Christ, even churches damaged by floodwaters have congregants out in the community helping others.

Churches in such communities as New Knoxville, Wapakoneta, North Ridgeville and Bellefontaine are providing assistance to flood victims in their areas. In addition to helping meet immediate needs, several churches are in the process of organizing teams to help assess flood damage as soon as conditions permit.

Some preliminary damage assessment has begun; however, the potential for additional flooding has limited access for assessment teams.

In a report to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency said the current situation began when heavy rains and thunderstorms that moved through the state Feb. 27-28, bringing as much as four inches of a 24-hour period in already-saturated parts of northern Ohio.

After that storm system exited the state, warmer temperatures behind the front caused the heavy snowpack to melt. The melt combined with rainfall triggered moderate to major flooding.

One weather-related fatality was confirmed in Huron County when a 51-year-old woman from North Fairfield was swept away in her car by flood waters in the county seat of Norwalk.

Fire Capt. Don Helton said firefighters recovered the body of Lisa Roswell after her Volkswagen Beetle was swept away by rising Huron River waters. It took rescuers more than 24 hours to find Roswell’s body.

Even as the waters rose in her car, Roswell called 911 and asked for help, saying floodwaters were up to her waist inside the car and was being drawn into the river. A witness living nearby saw the car disappear as the river swept it away.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking seeing that car being pulled down the river, knowing somebody was inside,” resident Art Gold said. “It was just terrible, but there was nothing that could be done.”

The Volkswagen was eventually recovered from under 12 feet of water.

Several other flood rescues were more successful. A priest and a church maintenance man in Medina County were pulled from a rain-swollen stream in Litchfield Township Saturday afternoon. Father Edward Weist of the Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church and the second man, whose name was not immediately available, were rescued by the Litchfield Fire Department and the Wellington Dive Team after spending about 45 minutes in the flooded stream.

According to reports from the scene, the priest had walked onto a storm culvert to survey the flooding when the culvert, apparently damaged by the high water, gave way. The other man then jumped in and helped the priest keep his head above water until rescuers could get him out.

Weist was taken to an area hospital with non-life-threatening head and leg injuries. His rescuer was not injured.

“The priest owes his life to that man. He was the true hero, keeping his head above water until we could get them out,” Firefighter Scott Sherman said. “His leg had gotten trapped in the culvert; he probably would have drowned if there had been nobody there to help him.”

In the hard-hit Cleveland suburb of Valley View, weary emergency crews were hoping for a break but preparing for the worst, according to Fire Chief Tom Koscielski.

"We haven't had flooding like this in five years, so I hope we don't get it twice in one week,” Koscielksi said.

The chance of Koscielksi getting his wish appeared to be slim as Valley View and upstream areas like Akron and Canton were expected to get as much as two more inches of rain.

"We're going to get another good burst of precipitation through (the weekend), but things can always change as it develops," National Weather Service meteorologist Tom King at the Cleveland Hopkins Airport said. "The best news is that unlike Monday, this one will take a little longer, so maybe we won't see the really terribly bad flooding."

More than 500 homes and businesses in about two dozen Cuyahoga County communities reported flood damage. Of those, an estimated 100 were in Valley View.

Flood warnings remained in effect throughout the weekend for a host of northeast Ohio counties including Summit, Stark, Portage, Medina and Wayne. A flood warning also remained in effect in for much of the Cleveland area.

The City of Lorain, at the mouth of the Black River on Lake Erie, was under a state of emergency due to flooding.

To the east in Lake County, more than 100 people had to be evacuated when the Grand and Chagrin rivers both overflowed their banks. A small dam in Gates Mill on the Chagrin River was reportedly washed away as the river crested.

In addition to the flooding, the initial storm front triggered an EF1 tornado near the community of Millersport, according to the National Weather Service. The tornado damaged a farm, several barns, a metal grain bin and two homes. The homes received roof and exterior wall damage. The tornado’s path was reported to have been 75 yards wide and just under two-and-a-half miles long.

The northwest Ohio community of Findlay last week found much of its business district under water for the third time in four years. Last Monday night, a four-to-five-block stretch of Main Street was closed as floodwaters overflowed into the downtown area.

In the southeast part of the city, residential streets also flooded, threatening homes in the area. About 15 residents sought shelter at the Hancock County Agency on Aging.

The city's safety director, Jim Barker, said the city took immediate steps to make certain floodwaters would not affect police response.

"We moved a police command post north of the river so that when the water does come up and splits the city in half, we'll have law enforcement coverage on both sides of the river," Barker said.

To the west in Indiana, state officials also remained on alert for additional flooding after the National Weather Service predicted as much as three more inches of rain through the weekend and into the upcoming week.

National Weather Service hydrologist Al Shipe said the rain could continue all week and will most likely affect the White and Wabash rivers in the southern part of the state. Shipe said record flooding was not likely, but the situation was still expected to be serious.

"The flooding there is expected to continue probably through March 12," Shipe said. "We're not looking at levels like we had in January 2005 or June 2008, but it will be extensive flooding in those areas and it will go on for a week or more."

While southern Indiana is expected to bear the brunt of the expected flooding this week, central Indiana, which saw heavy rainfall and snowmelt combine to push rivers out of their banks last week, will probably be spared additional flooding, Shipe said.


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