Ohio Valley Emergency Officials Keeping Close Watch on Rising Ohio River

Photo by Scott McCloskey As local officials meet at the Ohio County Emergency Management Agency command center in the basement of the City-County Building in Wheeling Friday, Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, second from right, and Wheeling Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball, far right, talk prior to the start of the meeting.

WHEELING — The Ohio River should crest more than 4 feet above flood stage by early Sunday morning, according to late Friday projections from the National Weather Service.

In preparation, area residents, emergency responders and government agencies kept busy Friday. Wheeling-Ohio County Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo said the Ohio River rose above the flood stage of 36 feet in Wheeling by 6 p.m. Friday.

As of late Friday, the NWS forecast the river would rise to near 40.5 feet by early Sunday morning, then fall below flood stage by early Monday morning.

The river was rising at a rate of about 6 inches per hour Friday afternoon.

Vargo said an additional 1 inch of precipitation, consisting of rain and/or snow, was expected overnight Friday.

“We’re going to have pockets (of flooding) throughout Wheeling Island,” Wheeling Public Works Director Russell Jebbia said Friday.

Affected areas are expected to include Wheeling Island Casino-Racetrack-Hotel’s parking lot, Wheeling Island Stadium, Fink Street, Belle Isle, sections of North Erie Street and parts of South Wabash Street, Jebbia said. Greyhound racing at the racetrack stopped Friday due to the threat of flooding.

“We’re just planning for the worst,” Wheeling Fire Chief Larry Helms said.

“We’ll have extra swimmers … in case we have to evacuate anyone.”

Helms said the fire department was planning to evacuate Station 5 on Wheeling Island if necessary. Utilities at the station were being moved as a precaution. Flooding occurs on the truck floor of the station when the river reaches 41 feet, he said.

In other parts of the city, flooding occurs at the corner of 26th and Main streets when the river level reaches 37 feet, while flooding happens at 36th and Chapline streets when the river is at 38.5 feet, Jebbia said.

Regarding residents’ preparations, Jebbia said, “Most of these people know what’s going to happen. They’ve been through it before.”

Residents in flood-prone areas should “watch the drains in their neighborhoods. Let us know if there is a problem,” he said.

Jebbia did not expect problems in downtown Wheeling, other than flooding at Heritage Port. He said the electrical room at the port takes on water at 3 feet above flood stage. “That’s probably going to be it for downtown,” he said regarding the extent of flooding.

City collection sites for flood debris have not been designated yet. Regarding cleanup when the river recedes, Jebbia said. “As long as it doesn’t get any worse, we’ll be all right … If it gets worse, we may have to rent (heavy) equipment.”

Marshall County Emergency Management Director Tom Hart said the projected river crest creates a potential for flooding at the Boggs Run exit and Marshall Street in Benwood. “That could impact some of the businesses there,” he said. “There are some homes in the North Benwood area that could take on some water.

“In the Moundsville area, you could see some back flooding into Gem Street and the fairgrounds. On Western Avenue and the back side of the Busy Beaver Plaza area, you could see some flooding as well,” Hart said.

Police and fire officials urged motorists to avoid driving through flooded areas, as it is difficult to judge the depth of water or ascertain the underlying road condition. Ohio County Sheriff Tom Howard said motorists encountered washed-out areas of roadway Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble said the department has plenty of tetanus vaccine left over from the summer flooding. Some of the state-supplied tetanus vaccine will be shipped to other counties as needed, he added.

People who come in contact with floodwater should get a tetanus shot if they have not had one in the past 10 years, Gamble said. Tetanus shots will be available Tuesday at the health department’s office in the City-County Building; the office will be closed Monday for Presidents Day.

In other flooding, Vargo said mobile homes were underwater at the Burnt Mill Trailer Court when flooding occurred along Short Creek and North Fork roads Thursday night.

A lot of water breaks occurred along GC&P and Short Creek roads, leaving “a couple hundred” customers without water service from the Ohio County Public Service District, Vargo said. The broken lines were still underwater Friday, delaying attempts to make repairs.

State officials were expected to provide bottled water and set up distribution centers for affected residents, Vargo said.

Howard said a lot of debris covered roadways in Ohio County Thursday night and Friday. As of mid-Friday, one lane of Riley Hill Road was closed because of a rock slide and GC&P Road was down to one lane because of flooding. Vargo said one lane of W.Va. 2 northbound was closed north of Pike Island Dam on Friday.

In Marshall County, Hart said, “We had some minor roadway flooding in the early morning hours and late this morning (Friday). There were no major issues; it was more of an inconvenience.”

Some flooding occurred on Little Grave Creek, Big Grave Creek and Fish Creek, Hart said. Upper Grave Creek in Cameron spilled out of its banks early Friday, but did not affect the roadway, he added.

Also Friday, flooded areas in Wetzel County included the W.Va. 20 areas of Piney, Jacksonburg at Legion Park, and the bottom of Slim Chance Hill.

Some New Martinsville residents prepared for river flooding at their homes. Resident Julie Mace said she was preparing to clear out the basement of her home Friday, while fellow resident Judy Staley said made preparations for the removal of her furnace and hot water tank from her basement.