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Published: Thursday, 2/7/2008

'Here we go again,' soggy Findlay fears as rivers rise in NW Ohio

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY As rain fell and the Blanchard River swelled just beyond the parking lot of Streicher s QuickPrint & Copy Center, owner Tom Day was loading a truck with equipment, paper, and supplies from his business.

It s tough, but this time I m not taking any chances, he said. I already had to replace all my equipment last time.

Last time was August, when the river crested some 7 feet above flood stage, submerging most of Findlay. This time, the Blanchard was expected to rise 5 feet over its banks, reaching that level about 7 a.m. today.

Other rivers across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan were reaching or passing flood stages but waters weren t expected to be as high or damaging as in Findlay.

Mayor Pete Sehnert declared a civil emergency effective at 6 p.m., urging motorists to stay off the roads and employees to check with their employers to see whether they needed to report to work. Our main concern is the safety of our residents, the mayor said.

At 4 p.m., Hancock County Sheriff Mike Heldman issued a Level 3 emergency, which means that only emergency vehicles should be on roads in the county until further notice.

By afternoon, city and county crews were closing water-covered streets and roads, residents of low-lying areas were evacuating, schools dismissed early, and many activities even Ash Wednesday services at many churches were canceled.

Everyone was eager to see the steady rain turn to snow.

Snow would be nice big, fat, fluffy flakes, said Elaine Bruggeman, a downtown merchant who had just finished replacing the furnace, water heater, and electrical system in her home that had been flooded in August.

While crawl spaces in businesses like Streicher s QuickPrint on North Main were filling with water, Ms. Bruggeman s Main Street Deli several blocks to the south was relatively safe.

Those of us down here are, I think we re having healthy paranoia, she said, adding, I m not leaving. I went home this morning and packed my bag because I knew I wouldn t be going home.

At Streicher s, the August flood s impact remained evident: wall studs held no drywall, and floors were bare. We were ready to get going on it, but I m glad we didn t start yet, co-owner Tammy Day said.

City firefighters rescued some residents whose homes had become surrounded by water before they realized they needed to evacuate.

An elderly woman and a young child were rescued from a vehicle that became submerged in waist-deep water on Frazer Street just east of Broad Avenue about 2 p.m.

They were fine, Firefighter Terry Coppes said of the woman and child. A little cold, but they were fine.

By noon, officials had set up an emergency operations center at the county engineer s office. An hour later, the American Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at the Findlay campus of Owens Community College on the city s north side.

As high water closed more city streets, Paul Blaine, assistant superintendent for Findlay City Schools, said officials decided to dismiss students 90 minutes early in an attempt to see that all children got home safely.

We decided it would be safer for the children to go home earlier, because their walk or ride would be safer because the water would not be as high, he said.

School officials were keeping a close watch on Central Middle School and Washington Intermediate School, both of which suffered flood damage in August.

While milder than the summer flooding, yesterday s conditions were an unwelcome reminder for those whose homes and businesses many of which never had flooded before filled with water.

Everyone I m sure did what I did the other night when it started raining: Here we go again, Hancock County Commissioner Ed Ingold said.

Some county offices, including the commissioners chambers, were sufficiently damaged that they had not been reoccupied. The August flood so damaged some county offices that neither the commissioners nor a number of agencies housed in a West Main Cross Street building west of the courthouse ever returned to them. They were glad of that this week.

Sometimes you do do things right, Mr. Ingold quipped.

Mayor Sehnert, who took office Jan. 1, was bracing for the inevitable complaints from city residents frustrated with what has become a chronic high-water problem in Findlay. I m expecting complaints to start rolling in here pretty soon, he said. We ll handle it.

He said he was committed to continuing the course begun by his predecessor, Tony Iriti, who was working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on long-term flood mitigation. He said his chief engineer was to meet with Army officials today in Buffalo to determine whether the city can proceed at its own expense with preliminary studies that must be done before the Corps can begin work on future flood-control projects.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.



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