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Unusual flooding challenges families

Faith-based volunteers in Ohio pump out basements, help residents prepare for coming winter freeze.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | Tiffin, OH | February 9, 2008

Flooding doesn't come often in February in Ohio. In the week approaching Valentine's Day, residents are more used to battling snow than rising rivers.

But right now, across the state, rain has swollen rivers to points well above flood stage. Many homes that were flooded by rising waters in August are pumping out their basements again. Repairs only half begun from the last flood are back where they were six months ago.

Tiffin OH, in the northwestern section of the state, is built on the banks of the Sandusky River, which historically, supported industry in the town. For now, unable to stay confined to its banks, the river has brought little but trouble to the Seneca County seat.

"We have a pretty serious flooding problem here," said Seneca County Public Safety Administrator Daniel Stahl. He said the river reaches flood stage at eight feet and the current mark is nearing 12 feet.

Rainfall seems to have tapered off throughout much of northern Ohio for now, residents report, but temperatures on Saturday night were expected to plummet to below zero.

"That will bring more problems to people with flooded basements," said Tamara McBride, chief of public affairs for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. "With the basements flooded, there's no way to get these people heat…and then the water pipes are at risk of bursting also."

Terry Samuelson, who heads the long-term recovery committee for Volunteer Connection in Ohio, said northern Ohio is comprised of very close-knit communities. People who live there are always ready to take in family and friends in need.

"There are still some people who haven't been able to get back into their houses because of the flood damage in August and they are staying with family or friends," she said. "Most of the time, we find that people here don't go to shelters when there are emergencies. There's always someone to take them in."

Terry Tangeman works with a coalition of men from the United Church of Christ from eastern Ohio. When the most recent round of flooding hit, he loaded up his industrial pump and headed out with about eight volunteers to start getting water out of basements. They worked for several days in Watakoneta, pumping out water from two houses and more than 60 apartment units. Another group from the United Church of Christ came behind them and removed debris, pulled out damaged drywall and made sure heaters were in working condition.

"We usually work through the American Red Cross, the United Way and other disaster organizations to find out where the help is needed," he said. "We can't just go up and knock on people's doors and offer to pump out their basements. People are too wary of that kind of thing these days."

Tangeman was headed north on Saturday to find more people whose basements were flooded.

In Tiffin, meanwhile, about a dozen people had to be rescued from their homes by boat last week when flood waters made it impossible to leave any other way. By the weekend, the water was slowly receding, Stahl said, but there was still a lot of damage that needed to be addressed before people could safely return to their homes.

In Prospect OH, the Scioto River crested near 12 and a half feet, a foot and a half over flood level. While the water is expected to recede slowly, emergency workers in Marion County said the flood warnings are still in effect and snow showers overnight with temperatures of about 10 degrees will not help recovery efforts there.

McBride said she expects most of the overflowing rivers will have crested by the end of the weekend and repairs can be done in all seven Ohio counties where disasters have been declared. The winter flooding should be done in Ohio, she predicted and residents can work at getting their lives in order.

"This has been a very strange winter," she said. "The rain we have been having is very strange."

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