Flood from nowhere plagues OH city

200+ homes damaged as water rises from ground, volunteers ready to help but no one knows when or where the water will go


MYSTERY -- Volunteers plan recovery efforts but no one knows when the water will dry up for families in Bellvue, OH, primarily because no one can agree where it came from in the first place.
Credit: DNN/City of Bellvue

BIZARRE -- The flooding covers acres and has filled hundreds of homes but no one is sure where the water has come from or when it might leave. Meanwhile, many insurance companies are refusing to pay damages.
Credit: DNN/City of Bellvue

Hundreds of volunteers from faith-based organizations around the nation stand ready and waiting to help families in this city who are experiencing flooding in their homes. The problem is no one knows when the water will go down because they don’t know why it’s coming up.

Although the weather has been fairly dry, for the past four weeks, water has been seeping up through the ground, flooding farmers’ fields, surrounding homes and filling basements, in some cases, to the tops of the stairs.

Mary Woodward, president of the Ohio’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) described the entire situation as “bizarre.”

“According to geologists who have come in to study the situation the water is coming from an overfull, underground aquifer, but no one is exactly sure of the source. Because we’re so close to Lake Erie, several people think that might be what’s feeding it, but truthfully, it’s just a guess,” she said. “In the meantime, while it’s sunny and warm with only a few clouds in the sky, people are busy sandbagging trying to protect their homes from rising waters.”

Mark Bowen, a geographer with the University of Kansas, explained that bedrock beneath the ground in the area is primarily composed of limestone, which is very fractured and allows water to move through easily (called karst topography). In addition, earlier this year the area received a lot of snow, followed by a lot of rain. In normal areas, rain soaks into the ground and gets stored as groundwater. But in this area, they've received so much water that the groundwater is actually bubbling up to the surface.

Woodward said that so far, more than 200 families - most residing in the north and east sections of the city have been affected. Fifteen homes have eight feet of water in the basements.

“The damage is unbelievable. The force of the water has severely damaged foundations so the entire structure has been seriously compromised. In some cases, homes will have to be rebuilt from the foundation up,” she said. “In other homes, people have been running pumps round the clock, trying to save their homes, but it’s getting old. People are getting frustrated and tired and unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to help them at this point. It’s just a waiting game, but since next week’s forecast is for five straight days of rain, I don’t hold out much hope that the water will be going down any time soon.”

The Rev. Robert Bottoms, pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Bellevue, whose church has opened up a food pantry and clothes closet to flood victims, said he’s even heard of a couple families that walked into the banks holding their mortgages, handed the banker the keys to their homes and simply walked away.

“One family has just dropped out of sight no one knows where they went. I guess they feel they have no other option because unfortunately, insurance companies are saying they won’t pay out on this,” he said, adding that “bizarre” is the only word fit to describe the view. “Lakes now stand where we used to have fields. In some areas, water is all the way up to the bottom of people’s mailboxes. You expect to see water rising when the rain is pouring down, but not when you have sunny skies overhead.”

In the meantime, neighbors have been helping neighbors, working side by side to dig channels in an attempt to divert water away from homes. Later this week, pastors from local churches will be meeting with community leaders in an attempt to organize relief efforts so they will be better able to meet the needs of the flood survivors and those coming to the area to help.

“Right now, churches are responding to their individual congregation’s needs, but as this continues, more people may be needing help and more volunteers will be coming to the area. We need to have plans in place to take care of them,” Bottoms said.

Woodward said she’s already received numerous calls from churches as far away as Pennsylvania who have teams ready to come to the town and help with whatever is needed, “but I have to tell them to just sit tight. At this point, we just have to wait it out.”

She also said while Ohio Emergency Management Agency officials have been in Bellevue trying to find a solution, Ohio’s governor has yet to declare the town a “flood disaster area,” which would allow them to receive low-interest loans or grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Clean up and clean out will be costly. Unless federal money is made available, things will fall back on volunteers,” Woodward said. “Unfortunately, Ohio is still recovering from a flood in August of 2007 where 8,717 families were impacted, a flood in February of ’08 where 1,086 families were affected and most recently a flood on March 18. We don’t even have all the numbers tallied from that yet. I keep telling God, ‘my flowers are growing nicely now so please stop the rain!’”

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