Thaw leads to flood in Vermilion

VERMILION Julie Reuss walked down Riverside Drive, snapping pictures of the chunks of ice piled high
May 24, 2010



Julie Reuss walked down Riverside Drive, snapping pictures of the chunks of ice piled high on the side of the road.

She spotted a familiar object wedged beneath a slab of ice nearly a foot thick.

"Oh, I wonder if those are my steps," she said. "They might be. I didn't notice they were gone."

The steps were just one piece of debris among many scattered across lawns after an ice jam caused flooding Sunday afternoon.

Residents were just returning to their homes Monday afternoon to assess the damage and begin cleaning up.

This low-lying road along the Vermilion River floods nearly every year. Many of the 20 or so homes are built on stilts, and residents are careful not to leave items like lawnmowers sitting on the ground in winter.

"It's not if it's going to happen, it's when does it happen," Mike Wiegand said.

Wiegand said this was the fourth flood in his three years living on Riverside Drive. He and his wife watched the river from their deck on Sunday and knew they had to act quickly when the ice got "funny looking" -- buckling and swirling in whirlpools.

It took just a couple of minutes to get their two vehicles to a safe spot on a nearby hill.

"Another neighbor took his truck up and told us, 'You can't go back, it's flooded. ... There's 3 feet of water here already.' Within two minutes it happened."

Vermilion fire Chief Chris Stempowski said the fire department and other agencies rescued five people who weren't able to get out in time.

"We don't have to rescue every year," he said. "Sometimes it (just) rises so fast that those that wanted to leave didn't have the time."

Rescuers also retrieved a handful of pets, including the Wiegands' dog.

Warm weekend temperatures caused ice on the river to crack, and melting ice and snow from upstream created additional pressure on the frozen slabs. The ice jammed at Riverside Drive, flooding the south end of the street at about 2:30 p.m.

"It was chasing us down the road," Reuss said. "I've never seen it happen that fast, especially since it didn't rain. It was just melting."

Reuss said the downstairs room in her house has cedar siding that can be hosed down. The only items kept there, a washer and a dryer, are on a floating dock to keep them away from the water.

The only damage to her property, she said, was marks in the lawn from the outboard motor of a rescue boat.

Wiegand's garage needed pressure washing to remove a layer of mud. He would just have to wait for the chunks of ice in the yard to melt, he said.

South Shore Dredge and Dock cleared the river by Sunday evening. Ohio Edison cut electric service for the safety of the rescuers, and it was restored at about noon Monday, police Chief Bob Kish said.

AccuWeather meteorologist Andrew Ulrich said ice and snow will continue to melt this week, with temperatures forecast to be in the 50s.

The area should also receive up to 2 inches of rain today and Wednesday, Ulrich said, but there's little chance of additional flooding.