Rain results in 37 calls for help

Trees, lightning take out power; Driftwood flooding expected today

A heavy burst of rain resulted in the first flooding for south central Indiana since July, as a flood warning continues for the Driftwood River through Wednesday morning.

The Driftwood was expected to rise above flood stage by early this morning, and continue to rise to near a half-foot above flood stage by this afternoon.

Ongoing flooding concerns are part of the aftermath from Sunday evening’s wave of thunderstorms that left vehicles stranded in high water, as well as residents without electricity for periods of time.

A total of 2.45 inches of rain fell in Columbus from late Sunday through early Monday, according to measurements taken by Columbus City Utilities.

Precipitation was even heavier in eastern Bartholomew County, where 3.6 inches of rain fell just south of Hartsville, county commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop said.

Strong winds made matters worse, with gusts hitting 40 mph at 8:45 p.m. Sunday at Columbus Municipal Airport.

Thirty-seven weather-related emergency calls were made between 7:30 and 11 p.m. Sunday, mostly from stranded motorists, Bartholomew County Emergency 911 Operations Director Todd Noblitt said.

Three water rescues were performed within a 12-minute span Sunday: 7:53 p.m. at Central Avenue and Parkside Drive and 8:04 p.m. at Washington and 37th streets, both in Columbus, and 8:05 p.m. at Clark Boulevard and Fremont Drive near Taylorsville.

Many stranded drivers said they weren’t even aware of flash flooding that plagued city streets and county roads, Noblitt said.

“Due to the darkness, it was hard to tell where the water was — until you were already in it,” the 911 director said.

None of the situations ended up being risky for people involved, and no serious injuries resulted, said Shannon Hinton, Bartholomew County Emergency Management director.

Flood warnings for Haw Creek near Clifford and Clifty Creek in Hartsville were canceled shortly before noon Monday.

East Fork White River is expected to rise to 7½ feet at 1 a.m. Wednesday in Columbus, but that is below the 9-foot flood stage.

Besides a lot of rain falling in a short period of time, Sunday’s flash flooding was aggravated by recently harvested farm fields, Bartholomew County Highway superintendent Dwight Smith said.

“When the crops are out and you get that much water, it’s going to wash out in the roads,” Smith said. “That is not unusual for November.”

Power outages

When the first significant storm arrived at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, several Duke Energy customers lost electricity due mostly to limbs and trees falling on power lines, Duke spokesman Chip Orbin said.

About 1,100 Duke customers in Bartholomew County found themselves without electricity Sunday night, Orbin said.

The largest area impacted was along State Road 46 West, while the longest blackout lasted more than three hours near the Fairlawn Addition, Orbin said.

Most outages were scattered, with about 500 homes and businesses in the dark at any given time, Orbin said.

Just when Duke Energy crews had the situation in Bartholomew County handled after 11 p.m., a separate storm system moved through Brown County, which kept utility crews busy well into the early hours of Monday morning, Orbin said.

Customers of Bartholomew County REMC had no problems keeping the lights on when the first storm hit.

However, the second wave of storms created a substantial blackout east of Columbus along State Road 46 that cut the power to about 400 residents, REMC spokeswoman Marty Lasure said.

That was the result of a lightning strike that caused a circuit to go out at the Elizabethtown substation, Lasure said.

After restoring power by 9 p.m. Sunday, REMC crews worked on scattered outages that impacted about 18 homes and businesses for the next few hours due to lightning and trees.

Leaf-removal duties

In Columbus, both police and municipal employees were out all Sunday evening into Monday, working to alleviate flooding of city streets, said Mary Ferdon, the city’s executive director of administration and community development.

Most spent their time removing leaves and other debris from storm grates and putting up barriers as needed, Ferdon said.

Road-closure barricades were put up north and east of Columbus by Smith at about 10 different locations, the county highway superintendent said.

But by the time he finished putting them up, Smith found himself going back to the same locations to take them down.

“In a lot of places, we had flash floods everywhere, but it disappeared two hours after it stopped raining,” Smith said.

Some of the worst flash flooding occurred near Rocky Ford and Middle roads, in the vicinity of the Canterbury Apartments and Candlelight Village, according to the Columbus Police Department.

Rather than not receiving enough warning, a number of subscribers to the county’s Everbridge emergency warning systems felt the county overdid things with its alerts about a tornado watch or flooding prospects.

It’s a problem that first emerged in July, when alarms went off every time an update was issued, rather than just when watches and warnings are issued, Hinton said.

Hinton said she will be trying to track down glitches this week, as well as discuss matters with both Everbridge officials and the National Weather Service to address unresolved alert issues.

Issues elsewhere

The National Weather Service reported that at least three tornadoes touched down Sunday when severe storms battered Indiana, injuring four members of a family, according to the The Associated Press.

The weather service said on Twitter that survey teams confirmed an EF-1 tornado with 95 mph winds hit Salem, one with a preliminary EF-1 rating was confirmed in Muncie, and a tornado of undetermined strength struck Springville in Lawrence County.

Near Muncie, Yorktown police Sgt. Jeff Whitesell said a storm-toppled tree fell on an SUV, leaving 44-year-old James E. Wright hospitalized in critical condition; his wife, 44-year-old Angie M. Wright, in serious condition; and their 16-year-old daughter in fair condition. Their 12-year-old son was released after treatment.

Part of the brick facade atop the Muncie Fieldhouse fell onto its roof, leaving a hole and rupturing sprinkler pipes, The Associated Press reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

How to help

The city of Columbus is asking residents to help their neighborhoods by removing leaves and debris that may be clogging storm grates along their street.

Lowlan -flooding should be expected in areas of south central Indiana over the next few days. City officials are requesting motorists to continue using caution when driving, and not attempt to drive through high water.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.