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Area flooding leads to water rescues

Upshur Office of Emergency Management director: ‘Turn around, don’t drown’

December 9, 2013
By Katie Kuba Upshur Bureau Chief and Melissa Toothman Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

BUCKHANNON - Heavy overnight rains Friday caused flooding throughout much of Upshur and Barbour counties over the weekend, with waters rising so high that local fire departments had to perform several rescues, officials said Sunday.

However, no one was injured.

Lt. Brian Elmore of the Buckhannon Fire Department said one of those water rescues occurred on the Flat Road Road in Tallmansville at approximately 8 p.m. Friday.

Article Photos

The Inter-Mountain photo by Katie Kuba
Heavy rains overnight Friday led to flooding throughout many areas of Upshur County, including downtown Jawbone Park, where this Christmas tree stands as a beacon of holiday cheer, unaffected by rising waters.

"Washington District (Volunteer Fire Company) in Tallmansville had to pull one victim out from inside a vehicle, and another girl had been washed downstream," Elmore said Sunday afternoon. "Luckily a tree had fallen in the stream and she was able to hold on to its branches until someone could get to her."

Another vehicle that had attempted to pass through waters covering River Avenue by the Poe Bridge in Buckhannon had to be pulled out of the water; passengers inside were able to climb out before the BFD arrived on scene, Elmore said.

But things had settled down by Sunday afternoon. Despite approximately 3-6 inches of snowfall overnight, the fire department had not yet been called out to respond to any motor vehicle accidents, Elmore said.

The Upshur County Office of Emergency Management's Jim Farry advised the public to adhere to the old adage, "Turn around, don't drown."

Farry said Sunday that the Department of Highways were asking people not to travel unless absolutely necessary.

"They're having a hard time keeping up with the ice and snow, so they're asking people to minimize travel if possible," he said. Farry was displeased to see people disobeying "road closed" signs Saturday in the wake of Friday night's heavy rains.

"People would see the sign and they would just drive right by the sign," he said. "That's unnecessary and that just puts rescuers' lives in danger. Just use common sense; I don't know what else to say."

The National Weather Service's forecast for today calls for a 100 percent chance of rain in the region. When combined with melting snow and saturated ground from Friday night's rainfall, flooding is possible, according to the NWS.

Farry said OEM officials were surprised at how quickly the Buckhannon River rose Saturday morning. Electronic gauges in Alton and Buckhannon indicated that the water level had spiked dramatically from 17.5 feet at 7 a.m. to 23.5 feet at 7:15 a.m.

"That's 6 inches above the flood stage - we went from 17.5 feet to 23.5 feet in 15 minutes, and that's just impossible for that to occur, so we're thinking there's a problem with our reporting system," Farry said, referring to the electronic gauges that are located in Alton, near the Hall Road in Buckhannon and in Ellamore. "We think we're getting some erroneous information from the gauges."

By mid-morning Saturday, Madison Street, Marion Street, Wood Street and the Hall Road were impassable due to flooding problems; most had reopened by Sunday, however.

"It wasn't a raging torrent; we just had water rising slowly," Farry said.

The Buckhannon River crested at 24.5 feet just after noon on Saturday, and had receded to about 17 feet by 7 a.m. Sunday, he said, noting that the flood warning in effect Friday and Saturday had been canceled.

Farry said he was concerned about the accuracy of the NWS' predictions based on prior experiences.

"We were only supposed to have a couple inches of snow (Saturday night), but we have 3-6 inches, and that's a little more than we had anticipated. Until we hear some additional projected rainfall amounts, we're not sure what's going to happen.

"We're monitoring things closely, to say the least," he added.

In neighboring Barbour County, Office of Emergency Management Director Cindy Hart said the only incident that occurred from high weekend waters involved a vehicle that got caught in water on Route 57. Luckily, no one was injured, she said.

Streams in Belington and Philippi generated the rising floodwaters, which Hart said affected the whole county. However, Barbour County did not have road closures, reported injuries or property damages, Hart said.

"It was definitely nuisance flooding," Hart added. "We're just very grateful that nobody was injured and nobody had to be relocated and nobody's property was damaged."

Hart said that it wouldn't have taken much more water to cause road closures.

"No roads were closed, but they were so close to having to be closed," Hart said, adding that Beaver Creek in Junior saw several inches of water that almost forced the closure of nearby roads.

About seven hours after the water had risen, water levels dropped back down, Hart said.

"Right now I'm just grateful for snow," Hart said.

However, Hart said the snow also worries her slightly.

"My biggest concern right now is when this snow melts and the rains continue," Hart said. "That's a big concern. It's just a constant battle of trying to keep it all level."

During the flood warning, Hart said she was in contact with nearby OEMs who kept her informed of what was going on in their areas, which helped her anticipate what to expect in Barbour County.

"All in all we did really good," Hart said. "I was really impressed."

Elkins saw water across roadways Friday evening but few serious problems, Tom Meader, chief of the Elkins Volunteer Fire Department, said Sunday.

"We helped Beverly with a rescue on the Georgetown Road Friday night," Meader said. "A man was trapped in his camping trailer. There were also some stranded cattle on the Georgetown Road.

"We had some calls on basements flooding, but other than that it wasn't as bad as we thought it might get. It was a good thing it got colder and snowed Saturday. I just hope we don't get a lot of rain now. We'll be keeping an eye on it."



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