Wheeling Officials Keeping Watch Over Rising River; Interstate 70 Reopened After Accident

WHEELING – Local emergency management officials are keeping a close watch on the Ohio River as the latest forecast predicts a crest less than 1.5 feet below flood stage Sunday afternoon.

According to the National Weather Service, the river will crest at 34.7 feet at Wheeling at about 1 p.m. Sunday. Flood stage in Wheeling is 36 feet.

At about 11 a.m. with the river at about 30.9 feet, much of Heritage Port was underwater, with the river climbing the steps that lead from the venue to Water Street. A large amount of ice was flowing on the river at a rapid rate.

Just 24 hours ago, the river reading was 20.7 feet.

Lou Vargo, director of the Ohio County Emergency Management Agency, encourages residents in flood-prone areas to watch the forecasts closely, but he said it’s not time to panic just yet.

“I’m hoping with no additional precipitation today, it’ll stay pretty static before crest. … We’re going to be constantly watching the river,” Vargo said.

It’s what’s coming down the road that has Vargo more concerned.

“Looking at the forecast we could have some more precipitation Monday and Tuesday,” he said.

According to the NWS, at 34 feet sewers begin to back up on the lower end of Wheeling Island. With a long history of flooding, Vargo said residents of the Island know what to expect.

“They’re really familiar with that river and I’m sure they’re watching the predictions as closely as we are in emergency management,” he said.

On Friday, a significant amount of rainfall coupled with rapid snowmelt after the temperature got into the 60s on Thursday led to creek and stream flooding around the Ohio Valley. Despite the area receiving about 6 inches of snow late Friday and early Saturday, Vargo doesn’t believe that will be much of a threat.

“We’re going to stay below freezing weather all week, so ideally the river could crest and drop before we get any worse,” he said.

The overnight snowfall also led to some problems for the traveling public, as a semi-truck jacknifed at about 7:30 a.m. today in the westbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Elm Grove. The highway was closed for about three hours, but is now open, according to Wheeling Police Department spokesman Philip Stahl.

According to Stahl, the crash occurred when the truck driver attempted to pass another vehicle that had braked suddenly. Stahl said the force of the crash snapped the semi’s cab in two pieces, and sent the driver to a nearby hospital for possible head trauma.

The vehicle ahead of the truck was not involved in the crash.

Stahl said the semi driver will likely face several citations, including failure to maintain control and driving too fast for road conditions. Officers also are investigating whether the driver had a commercial driver’s license.

Stahl said condition on the interstate remained “slushy” this morning due to the mix of ice and snow received Friday night and Saturday morning.

Additionally, the Wheeling Police Department reported seven vehicle accidents between 8 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. today – all attributed to the blast of winter weather.

Stahl said at about 10 p.m. Friday another semi-truck suffered a minor incident very close to where this morning’s accident occurred. He said none of the reported seven crashes resulted in any major damage or injuries.