Ivan: Wegee Flood A ‘Freak of Nature’

The problem with flash flooding is that it holds true to its name – it happens quickly and often without any warning, something many Ohio Valley residents know all too well.

But sometimes people need a reminder about how dangerous even a few inches of water on a roadway can be, said Dave Ivan, Belmont County Emergency Management Agency director, who added this week marks National Flood Safety Awareness Week.

“How many times do we tell people, ‘Don’t drive in flooded roadways,’ and what happens? They drive through them,” Ivan said. “They need reminded every now and then. Belmont County has a history of flooding problems.”

A large flooding event in September 2004 came after remnants of two hurricanes struck the area.

This coming September will mark the 10-year anniversary of those floods. During the first flood, one person died in the Barton area after being carried away by high water.

“We were in the recovery phases and here comes another one,” Ivan said of the 2004 floods.

Perhaps the most deadly and destructive flash flooding event in most residents’ memory was on June 14, 1990, in the Wegee and Pipe creeks areas of Shadyside.

The flood killed 26 people and destroyed dozens of homes. Survivors described a “wall of water” between 10- and 30-feet tall barreling down the creek, wrecking everything in its path. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, 3 inches of rain fell in less than two hours and the flooding occurred about 45 minutes after the start of heavy rain.

Ivan remembers the Wegee flood well, describing it as “a freak of nature.”

“In 1990, it was a massive amount of water in a short amount of time,” he said.

Ivan said people who live near streams are usually aware of their creeks’ potential for flooding.

“Debris creates problems – it hangs on bridges and pushes water places it’s never been before,” he said.

Because of the chance for flooding, Ivan’s department keeps an extra close eye on the weather.

“Basically we are weather freaks out here. If there’s a blip on the radar, it’s time start watching. We have a good rapport with the (Pittsburgh National Weather Service). If they see something we don’t they call us,” Ivan said. “They say, ‘Look, keep an eye on this one’.”

During weather events such as flooding, Ivan said the public should stay out of the way to allow first responders to help those in need.

“When we tell you to get out of an area, get out of area. … We tell people to stay away, but there’s rubberneckers who want to see what’s going on. They are usually the ones who get in trouble – they need to heed the advice of the local authorities,” Ivan said.

Ivan said even a few inches of water can carry away a vehicle.

“Flooding can happen anywhere, at anytime, without any notice. Residents need to have a plan and a disaster supply kit in case they need to seek higher ground,” he added.