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Published: Saturday, 2/9/2008

Governor Strickland tours flood-deluged communities, vows to help

BY LAREN WEBER
AND KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Gov. Ted Strickland surveys Main Street in Ottawa, flooded by the Auglaize and Blanchard rivers. He also visited Findlay, where 500 homes were damaged. (THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY)
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<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <b><font color=red>VIEW</b></font color=red>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20080207&Kategori=NEWS12&Lopenr=520661654&Ref=PH" target="_blank  "><b>Flood photos</b></a> Gov. Ted Strickland surveys Main Street in Ottawa, flooded by the Auglaize and Blanchard rivers. He also visited Findlay, where 500 homes were damaged. (THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY) <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <b><font color=red>VIEW</b></font color=red>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20080207&Kategori=NEWS12&Lopenr=520661654&Ref=PH" target="_blank "><b>Flood photos</b></a>
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Wearing jeans and work boots, Gov. Ted Strickland yesterday visited the water-ravaged communities of Ottawa and Findlay, offering sympathy to residents and business owners who - for the second time in about six months - were cleaning up after floods.

Water began receding in both Hancock and Putnam counties yesterday, and several roads were reopened.

"So many of the people affected the first time have yet to fully recover and have been affected again," the governor said in downtown Findlay.

"It seems as if it's happening too often to too many communities."

Mr. Strickland said the problem of repeated flooding is widespread across Ohio, proving there is a need for serious examination.

He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is one agency that will study the problem.

In Grand Rapids, Ohio, residents couldn't begin their cleanup because water levels remained near their crest yesterday afternoon.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) toured the village yesterday and also stopped in Ottawa and Defiance.

The governor was unsure if federal funding would be available to those affected by the floods. He said that determination will be made after local authorities assess the damage.

"We're standing ready to do what we can," he said.

An estimated 500 homes were believed to have been damaged in Findlay - many of the same homes affected in August, said Jim Barker, the city's safety director.

Mr. Barker said this week's flood ranked as the fifth-worst in Findlay's history. At its peak, the Blanchard River rose 5.5 feet above flood stage, he said.

Water remained in low-lying areas yesterday, but Mr. Barker said major roadways throughout the city were reopened.

"We're pretty much back to normal as far as traffic flow," he said.

The water-boil advisory in Findlay was lifted about 3 p.m. yesterday.

In Ottawa, where the Blanchard and Auglaize rivers were several feet above flood stage yesterday afternoon, Tony Schroeder worked to put his downtown insurance office back together.

This time, the water only reached a wall of sand bags sitting in front of Kersh Insurance.

Mr. Schroeder said he wasn't as lucky during the August floods.

Office chairs and shelves remained on top of desks yesterday inside the office on Main Street in the village's downtown.

"You don't feel like a victim the first time," Mr. Schroeder said. "The second time, you wonder what you're doing wrong."

Across the street at Heringhaus Furniture, Jim Heringhaus didn't take any chances.

Flooding in August caused thousands of dollars of damage to his business. So on Wednesday, he and his staff moved a majority of the store's furniture to the second floor.

"This time, we sensed it was going to be really close," he said. "You never get used to it. You learn some tricks as far as moving things and trying to be prepared."

Water came within a half-inch of entering Mr. Heringhaus' store.

On Thursday night in Kalida, five people were rescued from their home by an Ohio Department of Natural Resources' water rescue team as the Auglaize River rose, authorities said.

No flood-related deaths or injuries have been reported in northwest Ohio since the flooding began.

In Grand Rapids, the Maumee River crested at 19 feet, 4 inches - 4 feet, 4 inches above flood stage, according to Bradley Gilbert, director of the Wood County Emergency Management Agency.

There was no need for shelters to be set up, Mr. Gilbert said. Residents were dealing well with the high water. "This is routine for them."

Front Street, which runs through the village's main business district, was closed because of flooding, as were a number of side streets.

Several of the village's downtown shops also were closed. Two or three businesses had water inside, Wood County Commissioner James Carter said.

Mr. Gilbert said the water was expected to begin receding today.

The owners of several businesses that were open or who were in their businesses moving merchandise emphasized that life soon will return to normal.

"Come to downtown Grand Rapids and shop," said Karen Secor, one business owner. "This water will be gone in three days."

While Mr. Latta toured the village, he spoke with several local officials about disaster aid.

"We've got to really start looking at this flooding," Mr. Latta said, adding that he planned to meet with officials from the Corps of Engineers about studying ways to help alleviate some of the high water at this time of year because of rain and melting snow.

Elsewhere in Wood County, a call for assistance went out in Pemberville to help empty the sandbags that were used early in the week. The bags need to be emptied before single-digit temperatures set in tonight.

Anyone who can help should report to the Portage River behind the businesses on Main Street.

"They would like as much help as possible as soon as possible," Jeff Hill, principal of nearby Eastwood High School, wrote in an e-mail.

In Defiance County, officials from the American Red Cross assessed the damage, including the impact to about 70 homes, said Julie Rittenhouse, the county's EMA director.

Most of the damage occurred in the city of Defiance, where the Maumee and the Auglaize rivers converge downtown. Both crested yesterday morning.

About 25 residents were evacuated because they didn't have electricity or gas.

The Maumee River crested about 8 feet over flood stage, while the Auglaize rose about 5 feet above flood stage, Ms. Rittenhouse said.

She urged residents and visitors to continue stay away from floodwaters as they recede.

"We just want everyone to know that flooding still poses a safety and health issue," she said.

"We want to urge the public to stay out of the contaminated floodwaters. We want them to not bypass any posted barricades."

Contact Laren Weber at: lweber@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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