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Breaking ice not so nice

Shawn Foucher • Feb 25, 2014 at 12:30 PM

They’ve already got heaps of ice and great big headaches, so someone ought to just get those Vermilion folks a good whiskey.

They’ll need it as they spend the rest of the week cleaning up the colossal mess Old Man winter left on their front lawns.

Homeowners in the low-lying areas along the Vermilion River, on Riverside Drive, finally got a breather Sunday and Monday as the swollen river stopped swelling and the rain stopped coming.

“There’s still a jam at the mouth, there’s still a jam here on Riverside, and there’s a jam at Mill Hollow,” Vermilion Mayor Eileen Bulan said Monday afternoon. “But the good news is the water level has dropped about 4 feet”

When it did, it dropped chunks of ice the size of dinner tables on lawns, driveways and roads.

Erie County Emergency Management Agency director Tim Jonovich said city crews were out en masse Monday morning, using excavators to push ice blocks off roads so residents could finally gain access to their homes.

The carnage played out late Friday and early Saturday, climaxing with a rescue operation Saturday morning, when the Lorain County dive team and Vermilion firefighters had to rescue five adults, one child and four dogs from flooded homes.

At its peak this past weekend, the river rose to more than 16 feet, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. Later Sunday the waters began to recede — a bit too much, perhaps — causing officials to waylay any plans of breaking up ice at the mouth of the river.

“We had the Coast Guard cutter come through last night, but they require 14 feet of depth,” Bulan said. “We only had 12 feet”

A barge outfitted with an ice-breaking excavator of sorts remains locked in ice at the Vermilion Lagoons. The city contracts with the barge to break up ice at the mouth of the river.

“As long as we don’t get any rain or anything, we’ll be OK” Bulan said.

A sense of normalcy was returning to the Riverside Drive area Monday, with work crews restoring electricity and some residents returning to homes for the first time in days.

“We left Friday night. We knew it was coming” said Sandy Loucka, who has lived on Riverside Drive with her husband, Frank Loucka, for nine years. “We were prepared, but we didn’t think it was going to be this bad. We never saw it like this”

The Louckas stood back as workers used iron bars to smash monstrous blocks of ice the river had dropped on their front lawn.

“Some homes had water more than 4 feet up inside” one worker said.

No one reported any injuries, and homeowners are still assessing the damages.

“They’ve got gas down here, electronic down here,” Jonovich said. “We’re just trying to help everybody clean all this ice out. We’re going to have to move it. It’s not going anywhere unless you move it”

Work crews were still working on repairing septic systems Monday afternoon. There are 40 homes on Riverside Drive, and about half are occupied year-round, Jonovich said.

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