Storm wreaks havoc

EAST LIVERPOOL – It may not have been the storm of the century, but those who have lived in this river city most of their lives said flood conditions Wednesday were the worst they’ve ever seen.

Ironically, the Ohio River remained within its banks, and the problem stemmed from torrential rains overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday morning which also caused run-off that debris-clogged storm sewers couldn’t handle.

Service-Safety Director Ryan Estell said that, according to a rain gauge, seven-tenths of an inch of rain fell on the city overnight, with another large storm hitting at 6:30 a.m., dropping an additional two inches over a 90-minute period.

For another two hours, an additional inch fell and Estell said, “It charged the storm sewers so much, a number of manhole covers blew off and in some sections, water was shooting up two feet in the air.”

Estell said that, in some areas, pressure was so great, water was forced up through the pavement, noting that Center Street was “pretty much destroyed,” with chunks of blacktop visible beneath piles of debris dragged down by the cascading water.

Some sections of asphalt along Pennsylvania Avenue had buckled, he added.

In the Virginia Avenue area, one man – who identified himself only as Jim from Chester, W.Va. – said he was trying to “beat the traffic” and get to a gas station but, instead, ended up in water up to his vehicle’s windshield.

He was forced to crawl out the window and later had to dive underneath the water to hook it to a tow truck so it could be pulled out.

“It didn’t look that deep,” he said.

Another driver also found her vehicle in the same high water but she left the scene before she could be interviewed. Her car was also towed.

City workers reported seeing a kitchen range floating down the creek past their shop as the waters raged.

Outside the East End, Dresden Avenue was also hit hard due to a number of creeks along the hillsides, Estell said.

He reported “extensive damage” behind the East Liverpool Motor Lodge, where water poured down the hillside, entering the motel, with a 15-foot path of water running down the driveway across Dresden Avenue.

Sandbags were obtained from Columbiana County’s Emergency Management Agency, and East Liverpool Motor Lodge owner Tom Wycoff purchased 12 tons of sand.

Refuse workers were pulled from their routes to work alongside street workers and even the summer youth workers to fill the bags, which were stacked around the room vents.

Estell said the maneuver was basically to try and protect the motel rooms in preparation for more storms predicted to hit overnight.

City workers found themselves in thigh-deep water, trying to dig debris carried by the water from storm drains, and at one point, Deputy Service-Safety Director Dan Galeoti was neck-deep in water, standing down inside one of the drains trying to dislodge debris.

The EMA sent another 500 empty sandbags to City Hall as a precaution and helped coordinate efforts that resulted in S.H. Bell sending a front-loader to help city crews remove debris, with the county engineer’s office also ready to provide equipment if needed.

Trash service was halted for the day so workers could help with flooding issues, and Estell said it is possible trash will not be picked up today if additional flooding occurs and the men are needed elsewhere. They had already been scheduled to work Saturday for a city cleanup so may be able to make up some of the delayed routes then.

Both Estell and Swoger praised city employees for their efforts Wednesday, with the mayor saying, “In an emergency situation, you find out what kind of people you have, and we have the best.”

Estell agreed, saying, “Even our summer workers jumped right into the water. Every person, every department, jumped right in and helped.”

Police officers helped with traffic issues, while the fire department canvassed neighborhoods, looking for anyone with water in their basements that could lead to problems with utilities.

Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Kreefer said the department responded to 12 calls of water in basements, three of which were on Midway Lane off St. Clair Avenue and the rest in the heavily-hit East End area.

Some of the homes had water up to the first floor, he said, relating that one resident’s washer and dryer were floating in the basement, actually bumping up against the ceiling of the first floor.

Kreefer, who said he grew up in the East End, said most residents are accustomed to flooding and take it in stride but admitted, “A lot of people are used to it but today was excessive.”

After assessing the homes, Kreefer called both AEP and Columbia Gas to check the area, and the gas company announced later in the day it was temporarily terminating service to some customers in the East End area.

The company said it was trying to prevent natural gas from mixing with flood waters in the event appliances were disconnected or damaged and said another issue was the possibility of water moving out of the flooded area and back into the gas mains.

Once the flood waters subside and residents restore their basements, they can contact Columbia Gas at 1-800-344-4077 to have service restored.

Damages throughout the city were still being assessed late yesterday afternoon, with Estell saying it was difficult to see some streets due to the amount of debris still lying on them but said he expects to find Parkway and Dresden suffered considerable damage.

Areas on state Route 11 and state Route 39 that have experienced rock slides in the past did not seem affected by yesterday’s flooding, with no slides onto the highways, Estell said, although he noted some debris had slid into fencing at the state Route 11 site.

State Rep. Nick Barborak stopped into Swoger’s office Wednesday afternoon and spoke with officials, offering any assistance he can at the state level.

Estell said, “Once we assess the damage, we will work with Representative Barborak to see if there is any assistance the state can give us to reimburse us for the manpower and infrastructure.”

Barborak said he had already been in touch with the governor’s office, saying, “I will obviously look into what’s available and will stay in touch with (officials).”