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Published: Saturday, 1/15/2005

Floodwaters begin to recede; residents shift focus to cleanup

BY ROBIN ERB AND JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Most of the flooded rivers across northwest Ohio crested and began receding yesterday, providing a bit of encouragement to thousands of residents struggling to protect homes and possessions from seas of muddy water.

But from Defiance downstream to Grand Rapids, homeowners and business operators battled a stubborn Maumee River that kept creeping up through much of the day, swamping stores and residences and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

"There's not a lot to do but wait until it starts going down again," said Rick Snyder, owner of Snyder's Pisanello's Pizza, as he stood in his restaurant's front door. Behind him, seven inches of water swirled in the kitchen and storage rooms of the Grand Rapids establishment.

State Rt. 424 near State Rt. 281 in Defiance is awash after the Maumee River overflowed its banks. State Rt. 424 near State Rt. 281 in Defiance is awash after the Maumee River overflowed its banks.
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At midday, the Maumee reached just over 19 feet, sweeping over Grand Rapids' old canal dike. The water backed up into storm drains, crept up steps, and seeped into low-level stores.

Local merchants said it could take a week or more to clean up part of the business district, disinfect, and get approval from the Wood County Health Department to reopen.

The crew at Fernandos, a Mexican restaurant that opened in October, normally would have been clearing chimichanga lunches by midafternoon and preparing for the dinner crowd.

Instead, owner Fernando Mendoza and his staff formed an assembly line from the back patio, moving landscape bricks from the soggy backyard so they could raise the restaurant's appliances off the floor.

"You do what you can," he said, nodding to the sandbags that had been placed around his front door earlier by volunteer firefighters. "You hope it works."

Grand Rapids resident Doug Grey doesn't let a flooded Front Street prevent him from running errands in downtown Grand Rapids. The Maumee River broke over its banks because of the heavy rains and melting snow throughout the region.
Grand Rapids resident Doug Grey doesn't let a flooded Front Street prevent him from running errands in downtown Grand Rapids. The Maumee River broke over its banks because of the heavy rains and melting snow throughout the region.
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Along Water Street in Waterville, on the opposite bank of the river, Jim Armstrong leaned on a lawn rake at the edge of the water. Across what used to be his lawn, the murky Maumee sloshed around the base of towering trees. Nearby, it crept into his garage.

"If it comes, it comes," he said.

In Defiance, where the Maumee and Auglaize rivers meet, at least 50 homes and 20 to 30 businesses were flooded with dirty water, city Administrator Jeff Leonard said.

Sightseers gathered near the public library and Kingsbury Park, where the roofs of picnic pavilions poked above the water.

At 4:30 a.m. yesterday, emergency management crews went door-to-door to about 50 homes on Auglaize and Summit streets and Riverside Avenue, asking if basement utilities had been turned off. They made another round through the area about 10:30 a.m. - and woke up a few residents both times, firefighter F.F. Johnson said.

At Charlie's Down Under Restaurant, a crew of nine people spent about five hours early Thursday moving almost everything that touches the floor in the downtown eatery's basement dining room.

But the water that shot through cracks in the brick walls and seeped through the floors overnight still surprised General Manager Brad Bailey. "I brought a pair of boots about that high," he said, holding his hands less than a foot apart. "And as soon as I looked in the door, I knew I couldn't walk around downstairs."

Despite pumps pouring water into the street, about 6 inches of water remained in the basement's highest storage room, and water was knee-deep around the sunken bar area.

Mr. Bailey said the restaurant should be able to reopen Tuesday but would lose about $6,000 in gross sales for the four days it will be closed by the flood.

Electrical power was turned off at 26 flooded buildings in the city. City officials decided to require the inspection of all those buildings - mostly homes - before allowing people inside. The city has an inspection crew prepared to work tomorrow if water levels fall by then.

Water is expected to remain high today, although the Maumee River was thought to have crested about 7 last night.

Along the flooded Portage River in the Wood County village of Pemberville, residents breathed sighs of relief as the water receded yesterday.

At the Glass Art Studio, workers and friends were still pumping and sweeping water out of the basement-level architectural glass business.

It suffered the heaviest damage in town when the Portage overflowed into the downtown business district early Thursday. Still, owner Tom Reiter said replacing carpeting and cleaning up the mess was not a big deal.

"By comparison to what's happening in Marietta, in Southern California, it's just a small matter," Mr. Reiter said. Flooded basements seemed to be the biggest problem, and no injuries beyond some cut fingers from tying sandbags were reported.

"We're far from being over the flooding, but at least we're on the other edge of it," Pemberville Mayor James Opelt said.

Officials said the river began to recede about 4 a.m. yesterday. By then, some 200 volunteers had filled 18,000 sandbags with close to 300 tons of sand and stone, Mr. Opelt said.

Wood County residents who have experienced "significant" damage from the flooding are asked to report that damage by calling 419-373-6752, a special line that's been set up by the county's Emergency Management Agency.

EMA Director Eric Larson said flooded basements do not meet the requirements for assistance set out by the state, but mobile homes and permanent structures with water on the main floor would qualify.

"As long as we can get 25 homes that meet that, then we would be qualified for [Small Business Administration] loans, maybe some different kinds of relief," Mr. Larson said. "Right now, it doesn't look like were going to see that kind of damage."

In several other counties, officials, including Garry Valentine, director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, reported that floodwaters began to recede by about noon yesterday.

"The river is on its way down," he said of the Blanchard River, which flows through Findlay. "I'm hoping by [this] morning, we'll be back within the banks."

Only a handful of homes had water damage, he said.

His counterpart in Putnam County, Steven Odenweller, said much the same of Ottawa, Ohio, which also sits along the Blanchard. "It's not nearly as bad as we thought," Mr. Odenweller said. "As far as dwellings, we only had seven residences that look like they may have gotten any water onto their first floor."

While floodwater didn't quite make it to doorsteps of the Paulding County Library, it still provided an opportunity for the historic landmark to test its new inflatable flood wall. Nearby Flat Rock Creek deluged much of Paulding village but stopped six to 10 feet short of the library.

"The water did not come up to threaten the building, but being able to sleep at night knowing this place is protected is priceless," said Susan Hill, the library director.

Throughout the region, dozens of roads remained closed because of high water.

The Ohio Highway Patrol's Defiance post early yesterday listed sections of eight roads closed in Henry County, including U.S. 24 at U.S. 6 and State Rt. 65 between State Rt. 110 and Wapakoneta Road.

At least five roads in Defiance County were closed, along with several city streets, and high-water signs were posted on more than a dozen other roads. In Williams County, the patrol noted high water on at least 18 roads.

The Sandusky County Sheriff's Office reported that flooding from the Portage River kept a number of roads closed, including parts of State Rt. 19, State Rt. 105, and County Road 117.

In Erie County, State Rt. 269 between Strecker Road and Knauss Road was closed because of high water.

Blade staff writers Jennifer Feehan, Vanessa Winans, Steve Murphy, and Steve Eder contributed to this report.

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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