City narrowly dodges flooding

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 23, 2003

Even though Ironton residents were basking in the sun Friday afternoon, the street department battened down the hatches.

Storms Creek waters on North Second Street reached 48.2 feet Friday, forcing city officials to close part of flood gate 10 for approximately six hours, according to Mike Pemberton, Ironton floodwall, street and sanitation superintendent.

The Ohio River crested at 3 a.m. Saturday morning, having reached 52.6 feet. After that, the waters began to recede. By 8 p.m. Saturday evening, the flood warning issued for the area was canceled.

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City officials were not willing to take chances, though, with what they feared might become a problem in low-lying areas along the flood-prone Storms Creek. City workers began Friday afternoon preparing to shut some flood gates - just in case.

The city has a series of 19 flood gates that are closed when the river reaches certain points.

The process is time-consuming: it begins when street department employees remove the plates on the street and wash out mud and debris. Then, I-beams inside a gatehouse recessed in a levy are taken out and hand-set with a crane. Once the steel and timbers are set, and the gate is covered with tar paper. The gate is then sealed with sandbags at the bottom.

One lane of traffic on North Second Street was shut off in the early stages with street department workers regulating it. Traffic was maintained in at least one lane for as long as possible, Pemberton said, to allow for school buses to reach their destinations and because the only way out of North Ironton was the railroad crossing at McPherson Avenue. The crossing is dangerous, he said.

Pemberton said he bases his decisions on closing the gates on forecasts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and on the Ashland, Ky., water marks.

He said he believes the last time the gates were closed was in 2000. At one point in 1997, he said five flood gates had to be shut.

Areas near the Hanging Rock exit of U.S. 52 were impassible because of high water. The Ohio Department of Transportation closed a portion of State Route 650 because of high water.

The reason why the Ohio River continues to rise even though rains have ceased is that a large river like the Ohio takes longer to rise, said Dan Bartholf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, W.Va.

Areas east of Ironton, particularly ones in West Virginia have experienced recent flooding and rivers such as the Kanawha and Guyandotte flow into the Ohio.

According to information from the Charleston, W.Va. office of The National Weather Service, the Ohio River reached a level of 60.8 feet on March 5, 1997. That was the last time there was significant flooding on the Ohio River.

The flood gate closing and high waters below the Storms Creek bridge brought several spectators including north Ironton residents Mike and Ina Sheridan and Paul and Ruth Howell.

The Sheridans and Howells said the flood gate closing is not much of an inconvenience for them because they have the McPherson Avenue "escape route," which they said has improved over the years.

They were simply thankful the city had the flood gates, especially Ruth Howell, who clearly remembered the infamous 1937 flood.

"We lived on Railroad Street, and we were flooded out," she said. "About nine-tenths of the town was flooded out."