Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 9, 2010

UPPER TOWNSHIP — Rita Crum had 2 to 3 inches of water in her Ben Howell Road home’s basement and, while she would have preferred a dry basement, she will tell you her situation has been worse after previous heavy rains.

“I’ve had six feet of water in the basement before,” Crum said.

Not far away, Bob Dalton, who lives on State Route 93, has a far more dire story to tell.

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The Upper Township man has been able to save his furniture and other personal belongings but not his flood-damaged house.

The rains came and now the house has been destroyed.

“A wall collapsed in the basement,” he said. “It was shoved in by the force of the water.”

Dalton had been in the basement only a few moments before, carrying items from there upstairs.

“I pretty much feel I would have been swimming or worse if I had been down there,” Dalton said.

The flood water got so high it soaked the floor on his main level.

All over Lawrence County, there are people who are living through the same nightmare as Dalton and Crum, cleaning up because rain last week forced creeks out of their banks and into people’s homes.

Some Lawrence Countians were forced to leave when the water began to rise, others were unable to get home once the waters began to rise.

“I spoke to one woman, she has no idea how much water was in her home — she hasn’t been there yet,” Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Boster said.

In addition to homes and businesses, three or four churches were hit by flooding.

What did we get?

National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Axford said Waterloo received an estimated 4.8 inches while South Point got an estimated 3.8 inches.

Boster said the flooding has wreaked havoc on 65 homes as of Thursday morning,

Like most of the other homes affected by flooding, the Daltons do not have flood insurance.

“Me and my wife both thought we had it,” he said.

Boster said of the roughly 65 homes damaged, only five had flood insurance.

Why the problem?

While no one disputes the fact the region got a lot of rain in a relatively short period of time, some point to other factors that contributed to the misery.

Crum said when the county gets a heavy rain, the water has nowhere to go because the creeks are full of silt and trash.

“I think, honestly, the creeks need cleaned out and I mean really cleaned out,” Crum said.

That sentiment was expressed at Thursday’s Lawrence County Commission meeting by Commissioner Jason Stephens, who said some of the flooding in the Pine Creek area was because the U.S. forestry officials have not cleaned out some of their creeks in years.

“They don’t maintain their creeks, they don’t dredge. They let beavers build. There’s no sense in this happening because of some beaver. And that makes me really mad,” Stephens said.

The commission agreed to send a letter to the U.S. Forest Service and the area’s U.S. congressmen asking for attention to this matter.

Crum said one thing that makes matters worse is the habit some people have of using swollen creeks as a household waste solution system.

When the rains fall and the creeks rise, some people who don’t want to pay to have their garbage hauled off put their trash along the creek banks and watch the bags of refuse float away to become someone else’s problem.

“I don’t know who they are but I know they do it,” Crum said.

In addition to the fact this is illegal and a health hazard, trash in creeks can collect in and around culverts and on tree roots and dam up a creek, forcing water to back up on people’s property.

Crum gets flooded frequently and fears that the next flash flood may be one time too many.

“I need a trench around my foundation. I know one of these days it’s (the house) going to get knocked off my foundation. I worry its making my foundation crumble,” she said.

Some have questioned why Crum and others like her don’t just sell their houses and buy a new one elsewhere.

It sounds like a great idea but the reality is, buyers are not likely to buy a house that gets flooded. It is illegal for a seller not to disclose this information when putting their home on the market.

Neighbors helping neighbors

If there was a bright spot to the mess at Crum’s house, it’s the treatment she got from the Upper Township Volunteer Fire Department.

“They’re really good,” she said. “They came by to check on me and see if I needed my basement pumped out. I know they had to rescue people out of a mobile home up here.”

Dalton agreed.

“They’re a great bunch of guys,” he said. “I didn’t get their names but they’re brave individuals.”

Commissioners Thursday praised the actions of all the county’s fire departments for the long hours they dedicated to helping their neighbors.

Sunday night when most Lawrence Countians were home and dry, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and other emergency service personnel were not.

They helped evacuate people from flooded homes and rescued people from high water.

Burlington–Fayette firefighters rescued people stranded in their car on Solida Road Sunday night.

“The water wasn’t that high or swift but they didn’t feel comfortable getting out on their own,” Burlington Fire Chief Ryan Vaughn said. He said his department also cleared some trees and blocked off areas where water was over the road.

Aid Township rescued people who drove into flood water and stalled the car engine. It was Aid’s only water rescue.

“We are fortunate that people, from past experience, decided driving into flood water was not something to do,” Aid Fire Chief Joe Justice said.

And he is glad not to have had more rescues.

“I’d say water rescues are the most dangerous rescue we do,” Justice said. “That water will take you off your feet and you’re just gone. That’s one we don’t like to do because of the danger factor.”

Justice has a point: What is dangerous for the civilian is also dangerous for the firefighter.

Boster pointed out that anytime an emergency service responder steps into a boat to rescue someone in high water, he or she puts his or her own life at risk, no matter how well prepared or thoroughly trained he or she might be.

“In my book, they’re heroes,” Boster said.

County officials expressed relief the flash flooding did not produce fatalities. It has happened in the past.

“Was anyone hurt?” Commissioner Doug Malone asked Boster at Thursday’s commission meeting.

“To my knowledge, no one was injured,” Boster said.

Malone pointed out that many firefighters and township workers were still working at flood cleanup.

“And they’re all volunteers,” Malone said.

And the assistance did not stop at Lawrence County’s borders. At one point the Cabell County, W.Va., water rescue unit was asked to help, Boster said.

The American Red Cross provided emergency housing to six families. Others flooded out of their homes, Boster said, sought shelter with family members.

Lending a hand

Boster encouraged people who have suffered flood damage to contact his office at (740) 533-4375.

Thus far, only 14 homes have been categorized as having major damage, only seven are considered totally destroyed.

The county needs 25 homes and businesses to fall into the major or destroyed categories for the county to be eligible for state and federal disaster assistance.

But Boster admitted the guidelines are tight: A house with 1-2 feet on water on the first floor is considered to have only minor damage. Basement flooding doesn’t count.

Whether or not a disaster declaration is declared, some non-profit organizations are likely to step in with assistance. Among them, Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) and Lutheran Social Services.

A public concern

Lawrence County Engineer David Lynd said his staff is contending with three landslides, one large and two smaller ones.

The largest slide, approximately 150 feet long, is on Elkins Creek Road in Aid Township. Lynd said this landslide is actually an exacerbation of a landslide that occurred years ago.

“It’s not something we’ve had to deal with in the last four or five years,” Lynd said. “This is an old slide. We’re excavating some loose material and putting fill in to keep it open. We’ll probably have to drive some piling, eventually.”

Another landslide on County Road 7A (Wills Road) in Upper Township and one on County Road 8, in Aid Township near Symmes Valley schools, are also claiming Lynd’s attention at a time when his attention is diverted to many areas.

“It’s time to start the mowing machines,” Lynd said. “And we’re not finished with the potholes.”

Even with these three landslides, Lynd is philosophical: Several years ago when Lawrence County got 8-10 inches of water overnight, he was left with more than 20 landslides all over the 480-square-mile county.

The flood also affected roads and bridges.

“We’ve had a lot of roads washed out, a lot of culverts,” Fayette Township Trustee Terry Wise said. “We’ll have to replace all of them. He doesn’t have an estimate how much these repairs will cost, but said, “We just have to do it.”

Vaughn said he has contacted other county officials about the state of a bridge on Sandusky Road that was damaged by flood waters. The bridge is the only access some families have to get in and out of their property.

Vaughn is also concerned that if one of those houses catches fire, could firefighters safely take a fire truck over that bridge?

A peek at the action?

To add insult to injury, Crum said she and her neighbors must contend with a deluge of something else every time it floods: Sightseers.

“When it (flash flooding) happens everyone knows Ben Howell gets flooded. I hate sightseers,” she said.


Dalton is also thankful for his children, his extended family and his church family, all of whom helped him get his belongings out of his house. One fellow church member is allowing him to use a garage to store his stuff.

Even with his dilemma — he doesn’t know where his family will live — Dalton is philosophical.

“My kids are safe, my wife is safe, I’m safe. We’ll come through this storm,” he said.