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OH, IN floods turn deadly

Officials confirmed five flood-related deaths after more than a week of heavy rains across Indiana and Ohio.


"Our response started last week when we knew this was coming."

—Marwood Hallett

Officials confirmed five flood-related deaths after more than a week of heavy rains across Indiana and Ohio.

The five deaths all occurred in Ohio as rivers around the state continued to rise well past flood stage. The heavy rains started again Thursday, but the weather is expected to improve for the weekend.

Gov. Bob Taft declared a state of emergency for 56 counties, with some of the most severe damage in southern parts of the state. Emergency officials have rescued 56 people from high water during the recent heavy rains.

"This flood is as challenging as the one last September," said Mary Woodward, disaster response coordinator for Lutheran Social Services of Ohio and head of the Southeast Ohio Disaster Relief Network (SEODRN). The southeast Ohio region was pummeled by the remnants of several hurricanes in September 2004.

Woodward said while it is still very early to have hard numbers and damage estimates, she estimates that about one-half of the more than 9,000 residents flooded out last September in Marietta will be flooded out again this time.

She added that many families who were living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) until their homes were repaired, were forced out by floodwaters this time.

Woodward said the flooding this time around seems more widespread around the state, with areas in central, northwest, and southwest Ohio being just as hard hit. The Muskingum, Scioto, Hocking, and Great Miami Rivers all swelled to at least six feet above flood stage.

The Ohio chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (OHVOAD) activated last week when the state's Emergency Operation Center (EOC) did, said OHVOAD president Marwood Hallett.

"Our response started last week when we knew this was coming," explained Hallett, who also serves as director of the Ohio conference of Adventist Community Services. "We have all our agencies working together, and as it unfolds, we respond."

Hallett said an emergency supply warehouse is open in Byesville and clean-up kits are already being handed out. OHVOAD volunteers are also assisting the ARC in the shelters. "Everyone's doing what they usually do in times of disaster."

Hundreds of roads across the state are closed due to high water. The state EOC is coordinating the response.

"Our focus is helping people by coordinating resources and operations with local efforts for an integrated response to the emergency," said Dale Shipley, Executive Director of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, in a release. "Progress is steadily being made with roads opening, power restoring and water receding."

Woodward noted that this flood is different from ones in recent years due to how slowly the rivers rose. Last week's steady rain combined with a ground already saturated from multiple heavy snow storms, forced rivers from their beds at a fairly slow rate. "And now it's taking the rivers longer to crest."

In Indiana, the story is similar. Many areas are still waiting for rivers to crest as heavy rains continued Thursday. According to the state emergency management agency, areas with major flooding include Petersburg and Hazelton. The White River was at its highest level since 1913 at Newberry and Bloomfield in Greene County, according to the National Weather Service. The east fork of the White River in southwest Lawrence County was at its highest level since 1937.

More than 200 homes across the state have reported water damage of some type. The flooding is impacting communities in Greene, Daviess, Knox, Gibson, Pike, Dubois, Martin, Lawrence, Orange, Jackson, Washington and Posey counties in southern Indiana, according to regional reports from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. National Guard troops are helping sand-bag flood-prone communities.

Bob Babcock, disaster response coordinator for the United Methodist Church's Southern Indiana Conference, said he traveled through many of his conference's communities over the weekend. "There sure is a lot of water through these towns," he said.

Babcock said he is continually checking in with his district representatives on where the needs are. So far, he added, not many calls for assistance have come in, but he expects that to change as the water recedes. "I've heard a lot of the damage is insured so far - but we'll wait two to three days and go from there. It's a bit too early to tell right now how much help will be needed."

Winter flooding is usually more difficult than spring and summer flooding, said Woodward. "Because many houses lose power during flooding, in the winter all the water in the basement will freeze. That leads to burst pipes and water freezing within the home's foundation. And most times with that, you can't even begin to address those serious foundation issues until it warms up in the spring.

"That complication really compounds the cost of repairs."

SEODRN is seeking out donations of money and building supplies. Woodward said many of her volunteers are currently working on hurricane relief in Florida, so anyone who would like to help with debris cleanup in Ohio now is more than welcome. "We're literally at a standstill this time."

She also warned about the emotional state of many of the repeat flood survivors in southeast Ohio. "The depression is getting very serious among the families," Woodward said, noting that floods have hit the region frequently in the past few years.

"Many of these individuals want to leave the floodplain, but they can't because no one will buy a home that's been flooded. The government is discussing a buy-out plan, but that will take a long time. The families' options are limited at this time."

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