Flooding Minimal: Emergency Officials Relieved Crest Did Not Meet Expectations

WHEELING – Despite the projections for significant Ohio River flooding, Saturday ended up being a pretty quiet day for Lou Vargo.

“The prediction of (the Ohio River reaching) 41.5 feet earlier in the week had us all concerned,” said Vargo, the Ohio County Emergency Management Agency’s deputy director. “But at only a little over 37 feet, we’ve had a relatively quiet day.”

The river crested at 37.3 feet at Wheeling, 1.3 feet over the 36-foot flood stage level. Crests were 38.8 feet at Moundsville and 38.05 feet at the Pike Island Locks and Dam. The river dropped steadily throughout Saturday evening, with the latest observed level at Wheeling 36.54 feet at 8:30 p.m. The river is expected to fall to 35 feet by this morning.

New Martinsville also appears to have averted any flooding, with the river cresting at 33.85 feet, 1.15 feet below flood stage.

Though Vargo said the flooding was relatively minor in the Wheeling area, some local residents still felt the effects. A portion of South Front Street on Wheeling Island was closed due to flooding.Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack remained open, despite patrons having to avoid or traverse a miniature river running through the casino’s parking lot. The river water also reached the gates of Wheeling Island Stadium, though it did not appear to reach the venue’s artificial turf playing surface.

South Front Street resident Doug Bartlett said he did not expect there to be a major flood Saturday. He did, however, show where Fink Street became a waterway leading out into the river.

“I have lived here for 60 years,” said Bartlett. “In my old house, the basement would flood at 36 feet. That’s why we built our new house on a higher foundation,”

Across the river from the Island, onlookers gathered at Wheeling’s Heritage Port to watch a different kind of show than the entertainment venue usually hosts.

“I have seen it worse than this, but this is pretty bad,” said Martins Ferry resident Jim Ullom as he overlooked the rushing water, which came up to the top level of the port. “I remember when the Wharf parking garage was here and the whole bottom level would get flooded.”

Wheeling resident Mike Jubinville just came to see how high the water would get.

“I remember when we had the flood from Hurricane Ivan. That was a lot worse,” he said. The Ohio River reached 45.3 feet during that flood event in September 2004.

Wheeling residents Jeff and Patty Whitehouse were glad the predictions for major flooding did not come to pass.

“I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Patty Whitehouse said.

Also viewing the action from Heritage Port was South Front Street resident Balvinder Sandhu.

“I rented a truck to move stuff, but I am not going to need it now,” he said. “We needed to be prepared.”

In Moundsville, Glen Dale resident Sam Wood and his great grandson, Garrett Stock of Texas, took an afternoon stroll to view the river.

“That water’s pretty high – it would be hard to swim in it,” said Stock.

“This is not too bad. I have seen the flood water go way up the street at times over the years,” added Wood.

Tom Green, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, said lower than originally anticipated rainfall levels contributed to the lower river crests.

“Even if the precipitation forecast is off by just a little in a couple of counties, that can make a major difference,” he said. “It is a hard calculation. We have to figure out how much rainfall there is going to be, and how much of that rainfall is going to be absorbed into the ground and how much will turn into runoff.”

Along with high water signs on Wheeling Island, residents were blocked from traveling several other area roads including the railroad underpass in Benwood, near Kroger’s.

That did not stop joy-riders from braving the nearly 2-feet deep water, with one pick-up truck stalling in the middle of the intersection. A Benwood police officer assisted the motorist.