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Could a flood happen again?

Yes, but now we would have more warning and be better prepared

March 25, 2013
By Erika Platt-Handru - Staff Writer (eplatt@advertiser-tribune.com) , The Advertiser-Tribune

If catastrophic flooding where to strike again, officials say Seneca County would be more than ready to respond.

"As far as preparedness, we are a lot better than what we would have been in 1913. In fact, I know we are," said Seneca County Emergency Management Agency Director Dan Stahl. "One thing we've got going for us is the National Weather Service with forecasts on potential flooding."

Along with forecasts, the National Weather Service also offers briefings for counties that might be affected by forecasted flooding.

Article Photos

PHOTO BY ERIKA PLATT-HANDRU
A water level gauge on the Sandusky River provides the National Weather Service with a reading of the river’s height and its activity every 15 minutes. The ability to forecast potential flooding allows residents and officials to prepare for a flood emergency days in advance.

"When we get into spring and everything is really saturated and there's a lot of rain, (the National Weather Service) gets all the counties together for a webinar on what to expect," Stahl said.

Stahl said the National Weather Service Web site also is helpful in getting current readings and flood projections.

"That's some of the tools I use here at emergency management to prepare," he said.

In the case of a weather emergency, Stahl then disperses the information to county officials.

"On my end, it's to make sure those guys know all of that stuff's coming at us," he said. "I need to get the word out. I'm their go-to guy."

Sarah Jamison, a service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Cleveland, is often Stahl's primary source of information when potential flooding is in the forecast.

Jamison, who leads many of the National Weather Service webinars, said the ability to forecast flooding has taken huge strides since 1913. Then, weather bureaus were located in the Toledo, Cleveland and the Dayton areas, but the same kind of warnings were not provided, she said.

"They didn't have the ability to make accurate forecasts," said, Jamison, a member of the group Silver Jackets that focuses on flood control.

Jamison said a cold and snowy day had been forecasted for Easter Sunday in 1913, but instead, temperatures got up to 60 degrees.

"Little did they know, the record flood was about to come at them," she said.

The rain came Sunday night and was heavy through Monday, Jamison said. A weather bureau in Indiana knew of the danger and sent a person by horseback to warn the Toledo weather bureau.

"After this, they realized the importance of radios," she said.

After days of rain, the river reached 12.5 feet above flood stage, killing numerous residents and destroying 46 homes in Tiffin. Jamison said it left a quarter of the city homeless.

Because of the catastrophic results of the flooding, preparing for another potential flood event became a priority.

"There's been a lot of work to protect us from future floods," Jamison said.

Forecasts allow residents to prepare themselves and their property for a flood days in advance. Numerous agencies also can respond to a flooded area to rescue residents and help them with recovery. In 1913, rescue attempts by neighbors with rowboats often were unsuccessful - and sometimes fatal, Jamison said.

Tiffin Fire Chief William Ennis said Tiffin Fire and Rescue has two rescue boats that firefighters could utilize in the event of a flood emergency. The department also has suits made specifically for cold water emergencies to allow firefighters to enter frigid water.

Ennis said mutual aid with surrounding fire districts, as well as the Seneca County Water Rescue Team, could provide more manpower and equipment.

"Mutual aid is the biggest thing that has allowed us to improve things," he said.

"If we got in an instance as big as the 1913 flood, we could call to Columbus for an emergency response plan and could get boats from them," Ennis said.

County bridges and roadways also are prepared for major flooding, Seneca County Engineer Mark Zimmerman said.

Since 1913, the state has required storm events be used to calculate bridge designs. Modern bridges in Seneca County are built for the 100-year flood, or a flood of such large magnitude, it has a 1-percent chance of happening in any year.

"As far as bridges, we design bridges to a much higher standard," Zimmerman said.

A few vintage bridge structures and abutments remain that were not built for the 100-year flood, but the county keeps an eye on them in the event of a flood.

"If a large storm event starts washing out a bridge, we have a plan in place to deal with that. We have a plan in place for every one of these bridges," Zimmerman said.

Seneca County roadways which were laid out during the 1820s and 1830s would be affected by a major flood, but better drainage along the roadways and tiling do help, Zimmerman said.

If a road were to be washed out, it could be temporarily closed and fixed.

Zimmerman said limited funds don't allow the county to have the best roads, but the county does have the best roads it can afford. Continuing to improve drainage and longevity help maintain them, he said.

To prepare at home for a major flood event, Red Cross Emergency Services Manager Ron Rooker said residents should follow the "Be Red Cross Ready" program.

The program entails three steps; get a kit, make a plan and be informed.

"Flooding is an event where a lot of times we have some warning," Rooker said. "If there's a flood, you'd have a go-to kit."

The kit would be helpful for someone stuck in a residence or vehicle without power, but also could be taken to a Red Cross shelter. Rooker said the kit should include essentials such as food, water and comfort items.

Step two is to make a plan, Rooker said.

"If you live an area that tends to flood, know that so that you can be prepared or more prepared if there is a flood warning," he said.

A plan should include an escape route and an idea of where to stay in the case of an emergency.

By being informed, which is step three, a resident knows what type of disasters could affect them and where they could turn for information and for help.

"Overall, you should have an idea what disasters you could be prone to," Rooker said.

 
 

 

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