Dams, levees fail in major IN flooding

Floodwaters threaten hundreds, many residents rescued by boat, cleanup may be one of the largest in the state’s history


MUDSLIDE -- Heavy rains of up to 10 inches fell in central Indiana last week causing major flooding and mudslides like this one that damaged a house near Martinsville, Indiana.
Credit: DNN/Sharon Dunten

Coming just days after heavy rains and tornadoes ripped through Indiana, up to 10 inches of rain drenched the central part of the state Saturday, forcing hundreds from their homes and flooding interstates and highways.

A dam at Prince’s Lakes in Johnson County was overtopped and breached Saturday afternoon, and levee failures were reported in Vigo, Clay and Greene counties, according to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. More rain was possible overnight and the State Emergency Operations Center was to remain activated through the night to support flood response operations. The forecast called for some sunshine on Sunday.

Kevin Cox with the Indiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (INVOAD) said conditions were so dangerous that state officials were asking volunteers to wait until roads and bridges were safer before beginning their relief efforts.

“Most of our counties, the roads and bridges are being washed out,” Cox said, adding that the Salvation Army also was providing shelter to storm victims. “We’re asking volunteers to please not respond for a couple of days and stay tuned to the news. This will be one of the largest cleanups in state history.”

Some of the same regions and counties involved in widespread floods in January were again under water Saturday.

“It was nonstop thunder, the wind and a downpour today,” said Ann Gregson, resource development manager with the American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis. “It’s whole communities being evacuated. Main arteries are out.”

Gregson said the Red Cross was staffing 13 shelters across the state Saturday night.

The state reported one storm-related fatality as of late Saturday night, in Bartholomew County, said John Erickson, a spokesman with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

INVOAD officials said in a news release that emergency personnel were working late Saturday to restore power, assess damage to roads and bridges and make decisions regarding public safety on affected highways.

“Please respect their work and plan to respond as volunteer opportunities become available over the next few days,” the release said, adding that INVOAD will be coordinating volunteer cleanup efforts in the affected counties.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels declared an emergency in 10 counties: Brown, Clay, Greene, Johnson, Monroe, Morgan, Owen, Shelby, Vermillion and Vigo, which allows the state to expand emergency services and sets in motion possible federal assistance. Nearly 20 counties declared disasters, which could limit travel to emergency personnel.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for all or portions of at least 12 counties. Sections of major thoroughfares were closed because of flooding, including on I-65, I-70, I-465 and U.S. 31.

The state said evacuations occurred throughout Saturday in central and southern Indiana, with large-scale evacuations in Morgan, Johnson and Monroe counties. More than 100 patients at Columbus Hospital in Bartholomew County were evacuated to other medical facilities, according to state officials.

The governor’s office said water search and rescue operations began early Saturday, including members of the Indiana National Guard. Marine Corps and Coast Guard aircraft also have been sent to affected areas for search, rescue and damage assessment operations.

Several response groups said they already were working to help Hoosiers who suffered losses when several tornadoes and severe storms struck the state in the past week. The losses from those storms included the destruction of more than 200 apartment units in Indianapolis, said Gregson, with the Red Cross. Survivors from those storms are still living in emergency housing, she said.

“There are lots of volunteers helping those folks,” she said, “and now this. It’s extraordinary.”

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