What started as a steady rain last Monday, February 19th; continued throughout the week and eventually turned into a torrential downpour over the weekend has resulted in the worst flooding in Switzerland County since the 1997 Flood.
The heavy rains caused the Ohio River to rise rapidly, eventually covering the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park in Vevay; closing State Road 56 west of Vevay at Patton Hollow Road heading to Madison; closing State Road 156 east of Vevay at Plum Creek Road, cutting off direct access to the Markland Dam; and seeing heavy flood damage in Patriot as well as properties along the river and along streams and creeks that were backed up and overflowed their banks, stranding many county residents.
The flooding and rains on Saturday night caused the Switzerland County Commissioners to declare a Level Orange advisory for the weekend, asking residents to stay off of the roads unless they were going to work or had an emergency.
Belterra Casino Resort at Florence was forced to close its casino area early on Friday morning, and it remained shut down as of Wednesday morning due to the high water.
Blair Bendell, Vice President of Marketing for Belterra, said on Tuesday that they were closely monitoring the river levels, but still had no set day and time to reopen casino operations. He noted that all land-based features of the complex, including the hotel and many of the restaurants, were still open for guests; but that visitors should consult Belterra’s website or call the resort prior to coming to see which amenities on the property were open at specific times.
“We’re continuing to monitor the levels, and as soon as we can open safely, we will do that,” Bendell said. “But we don’t have an exact date or time yet.”
After the river receded more overnight on Tuesday, Belterra reopened the casino on Wednesday morning.
At the Markland Dam and Locks, water levels on Tuesday were finally going down.
Lock and Dam operator Bobby Pethel said that on Tuesday afternoon the level stood at 54.9-feet, which was going down.
“The predictions are saying a 53.2 tomorrow (Wednesday); a 50.9 Thursday; and a 49.3 on Friday,” Pethel said. “Flood level is 51-feet.”
“If the predictions hold up, we should be all right,” he continued.
Pethel said that the Corps of Engineers is not yet locking at the dam, noting that water level has to go down to 19-feet on the upper area before they can start locking. On Tuesday afternoon, the level on the upper was at 21.8.
“But then we have to make sure that nothing mechanical-wise or electrical-wise is messed up, we’ll be all right.”
The flooding has caused issues with Switzerland County schools, as well.
So far students have missed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week as the flood waters have made several county roads impassable. As the water recedes, county workers are now busy clearing off debris from the roads so that motorists can safely travel, but student safety has been at the forefront of the decisions by Superintendent Mike Jones.
Monday and Tuesday were designated as Digital Make Up Days by the corporation, with students being able to access and complete school work on their Chromebook computers that was assigned by teachers. Teachers were also available via email, text, and phone calls during those two days for students or parents who had questions.
By Tuesday afternoon water was beginning to recede, and volunteers from Jeff-Craig Fire and Rescue were using a fire hose to blow debris off of State Road 156 at Plum Creek so that portion of the road could be reopened to traffic. Work was unclear on the status of State Road 56 at Patton Hollow, because further west at Brooksburg, high flood levels were still being reported.
The flooding has also caused at least one major road situation in the area.
On Tuesday it was announced that the Indiana Department of Transportation Aurora Subdistrict maintenance crews will close State Road 262 between Bear Branch Road and Hartford Pike south of Milton in Ohio County as soon as this Monday, March 5th.
The heavy rain over the weekend accelerated embankment erosion, according to INDOT officials. An emergency response contractor will begin stabilization efforts once the closure goes into effect.
The slide site is located south of the Dearborn-Ohio County line, seven miles south of U.S. Highway 50. A detour will be posted.
Geostablization International, the state’s slide mitigation contractor, plans to embed 30-foot-long steel shafts into the eroding slope which measures 500 feet side-to-side. Ends of these “soil nails” will be fitted with a wire mesh covering and overcoated with shotcrete to form a stabilizing wall. Road crews will then repair pavement and replace guardrail.
INDOT officials say that the closure could continue through May.
By Wednesday of this week, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb had officially declared 22 Indiana counties as being a part of a disaster emergency that he declared February 24th and 26th in response to widespread flooding and infrastructure damage caused by sustained heavy rainfall.
The governor signed a new executive order on Wednesday to add four counties — Ohio, Harrison, Jasper, and Pulaski — in addition to Switzerland, Benton, Clark, Crawford, Floyd, Jefferson, Spencer, Warrick, Carroll, Dearborn, Elkhart, Fulton, Lake, Marshall, Perry, St. Joseph, Starke, and White counties — making 22 total counties covered by this disaster emergency declaration so far.
The disaster declaration means the state Department of Homeland Security can take necessary actions to provide expanded emergency services and is a step the state is required to take to request assistance from the federal government.