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Rising floodwaters forced the complete closing of State Road 46 between downtown Columbus and Interstate 65 late Monday afternoon.
As water levels from the East Fork White River began to rise Monday morning, emergency crews initially diverted traffic at 11 a.m. from both directions of State Road 46 onto the eastbound lanes between Morgan Hill and Carr Hill roads. That change resulted in long backups along Second and Third streets in downtown Columbus, police said.
While two-lane traffic was maintained for most of the afternoon, the rising waters prompted a 5:30 p.m. decision to shut down the stretch of road also known as Jonathan Moore Pike, said Lt. Matt Myers, spokesman for the Columbus Police Department.
High water has reduced the travel options for motorists who normally come into or from downtown Columbus using State Road 46 or State Road 11, two main arteries to travel south and west of Columbus.
Other possible detours that utilized County Road 200 South, Lowell Road, County Road 325 West or North Indianapolis Road also were not open due to floodwaters, said Ed Reuter, Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center director.
Also, Indianapolis Road at Paula Drive was closed to southbound traffic. Northbound Indianapolis Road was closed at the roundabout.
Motorists in Columbus were urged to take U.S. 31 north to Interstate 65 at Taylorsville, then head south on I-65 to the State Road 46 exit, where they could head west, Myers said.
With a 9-foot flood stage, East Fork White River at Columbus was at 15.76 feet as of 5 p.m. The river was expected to crest at 16.1 feet around 9 p.m. Monday.
In contrast, the flood of Jan. 7, 2005, reached a crest of 17.05 feet on East Fork White River, while the Great Flood of June 7, 2008, reached a crest of 18.61 feet.
Reuter said Monday afternoon that it was impossible to predict when all four lanes would reopen to traffic.
“It just really depends on how high the water gets, and how much more water comes from the north,” he said.
Flooding along East Fork White River only reaches this level every three to four years, said Dennis Moats, Bartholomew County Emergency Management director.
The waters were predicted to fall from a moderate to a minor flood level tonight, according to the National Weather Service. If there is no additional precipitation, East Fork White River was expected to drop below flood stage early Christmas morning.
State Road 11 in the Garden City area was closed because of high water at 8 p.m. Sunday, taking many motorists by surprise.
Six drivers who ignored the closure signs received citations, Columbus Police spokesman Lt. Matt Myers said.
Columbus Police and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department are writing citations for anyone ignoring high-water signs and potentially placing their lives, and those of water rescue crews, at risk.
But since Sunday, there also have been a few incidents of people moving high-water and road-closure signs off State Road 11, leaving other motorists unaware of the impending danger, Myers said.
“If someone is hurt or killed, the person who moved the sign would be legally responsible and could face criminal charges,” Myers said.
With schools off for the two-week holiday break, traffic volume Monday was lower than normal.
In addition, “many people aren’t working due to the Christmas holiday,” Reuter said. “But, nevertheless, State Road 46 West is going to be our most crucial area.”
Fighting back the waters
For one family farther south in the Walesboro area that suffered substantial losses in the 2008 flood, the situation has become perilous.
With their home completely surrounded by water, Everett and Georgia Reeves of 1014 E. Frank St. were running five pumps Monday to keep flooding from the nearby East Fork White River out of their home.
At midafternoon Monday, the couple — both in their 70s — were forced to shut off their furnace when high water rose to within 2 inches of the first-story flooring, according to their daughter, Teresa Lacy, who resides next door.
But the Reeves couple were doing better than her son-in-law and daughter, who have an apartment on her parents’ property, Lacy said.
Jamie and Nicole Norred were forced to temporarily move in with Lacy after an inch of water covered their floors.
While acknowledging the community was experiencing a 10-year flood event, Lacy thinks her family could have been spared from this situation if promises made after the 2008 flood were kept.
At that time, representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said they would widen a nearby creek and construct a continuous culvert along her parents’ property — neither of which has materialized, Lacy said.
Meanwhile, two other rivers in the area appeared to have leveled off Monday afternoon with upstream tributaries falling, Bergman said.
The Flatrock River at Columbus was at 15.21 feet late Monday afternoon. As of 5 p.m., the Driftwood River was at 16.5 feet. Flood stage for both rivers is 11 feet.
The number of areas affected by flooding became so large that the county ran out of high-water signs, Bartholomew County Highway Engineer Danny Hollander reported Monday morning.
The Columbus Parks and Recreation Department closed portions of both Mill Race and Noblitt parks, with sections of the People Trail system also considered off-limits. The trails will reopen after the water recedes, and crews are able to clear off mud and debris, according to a release from the parks department.
Bartholomew County road closings
This list of road closings was compiled midday Monday:
Both westbound lanes of Jonathan Moore Pike, between Interstate 65 and Columbus; two-way traffic was being diverted onto westbound lanes Monday afternoon.
State Road 11 at three locations: between State Road 46 and Garden City, between County Road 450S and 550S, and between 650S and 800S.
Southern Crossing, between South Jonesville Road and County Road 150E
County Road 900N, between 200E and 300E
County Road 325W, between Lowell and Georgetown roads
County Road 400N, between U.S. 31 North and Riverside Drive.
County Road 330W, between Ohio Ridge Road and 450N
County Road 100N, between 200W and Indianapolis Road
Tellman Road, between County Road 200W and Indianapolis Road
County Road 400W at 200S Dawson Street
South Gladstone Avenue, between County Road 300S and South Marr Road
County Road 800S, between State Road 11 and 325E
County Road 850S, east of U.S. 31
County Road 930S, between 150W and 400W
HIGH WATER - PASSABLE
County Road 900N at 350E
State Road 9 North at County Road 900N.
County Road 300W at 450N
Lowell Road, between North County Road 250W and the I-65 overpass
County Road 350N, east of Talley Road.
Talley Road, north of County Road 350N
West Baker Hollow Road at North County Road 675W
South County Road 525E, between State Road 46 and 50N
South County Road 300E at East 600S
Regional road closings
The following regional road closures were announced Monday afternoon by the Indiana Department of Transportation:
State Road 58 between West County Road 650S and West Mt. Healthy Road
State Road 135, between Gnaw Bone Camp and State Road 46
State Road 135, between Mt. Nebo Road and State Road 46
State Road 235, between Mill Street and County Road 460W
State Road 258 between County Road 425E and Bellford Road
State Road 258 at County Road 930S
State Road 258 between County Road 100E and 25E
State Road 250 from County Road 825E to 1025E
State Road 256 between State Road 39 and Interstate 65
U.S. 31 at County Road 650S
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