Ohio River on the Rise in Wheeling, Up and Down Valley

Photo by Scott McCloskey Wheeling Island resident Tom Krause keeps watch Monday on the rising Ohio River near the Wheeling Island Marina. Behind him is a large tree that fell along the shore because of rising water.

WHEELING — Roads were closed, schools were canceled and the 15th annual Sternwheel Festival was scrapped as people up and down the Ohio River prepared for flooding today.

As of 10:30 p.m. Monday, The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh was calling for the river to crest at 6 p.m. today at 39.9 feet. Flood stage in Wheeling is 36 feet. The latest prediction before press time came after two days of river flood forecasts that, at times, called for moderate flooding here. At others, such as the most recent, forecasters called for more minor flooding.

If the river crests at the most recent predicted level, it still will be the worst flooding Wheeling has seen in 13 years. The water will be higher than it was when it flood in February (38.9 feet). But it will be more than 2 feet short of the January 2005 flood, which was the last time the river reached anything higher than the February levels in Wheeling. In 2005, the water reached 42.17 feet.

Powhatan Point also might skip the category of major flooding, as the weather center had predicted Sunday. The most recent available predictions called for the river to crest there at 40 feet.

Flood stage in Powhatan Point is 37 feet, and the weather forecast now considers the flooding there to be moderate.

In Steubenville, the river is predicted to pass flood stage, but barely. It is expected to crest at 36.1 feet. Flood stage is 36 feet.

With the flood predicted, those responsible for the Sternwheel Festival said they had no choice but to call it off.

“We had to cancel,” said Diane Jordan, president and chairwoman of the Sternwheel Festival. “The port is flooded and the boats can’t get in.”

And it’s unlikely there would have been many people attending, she said.

“Nobody is in the mood for a festival when they’re trying to hold on to their own home and livelihood,” Jordan said. “It (the flooding) affects everyone.”

The festival also was canceled in 2004 when the remnants of Hurricane Ivan caused the river to swell to more than 45 feet.

It costs about $50,000 to put on the Sternwheel Festival, and much of the money won’t be recouped, Jordan said. She isn’t certain yet what the financial hit might be.

Before the festival was canceled, the city of Wheeling had already removed the docks at Heritage Port and shut off the electric. Jordan said there was no chance the area could be cleaned up by the time the festival was to start Thursday.

“It’s sad,” she said. “We work every day on this all year round. But there is nothing you can do about Mother Nature.”

Meanwhile, heavy rains — the result of the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon — had already led to some problems throughout the Ohio Valley.

Marshall County Schools did not hold classes Monday. As of press time, it had a two-hour delay in effect for today. Madison Elementary School, on Wheeling Island, closed for today. Wetzel and Tyler schools dismissed early Monday, but there was no word on whether they would be open today. Brooke and Hancock county schools also closed Monday. While Brooke County Schools said it would hold classes today, Hancock had not made any such statement by press time. Schools in Ohio all appeared to be running on schedule.

West Virginia Northern Community College also closed its New Martinsville campus for today.

There were several other cancellations as a result of the threat of river flooding. New Martinsville City Council postponed its regular council meeting. Instead, council members planned to aid residents and businesses with flood preparation.

For the first time in more than a decade, the West Virginia Oil & Gas Festival had to cancel all of its Sistersville Park-related events.

Residents and businesses throughout the Ohio Valley also dealt with sporadic power outages, road closures and downed trees.

Emergency management officials said they had relatively few problems through Monday. With the crest forecast lower, they also said they hoped flood issues today would be minimal.

Belmont County Emergency Management Agency Director David Ivan said the county was fortunate.

“Other than some culverts getting plugged up, but that was it,” Ivan said of creek and stream flooding as of Monday afternoon. “They came up. They got up to the top of the banks, but they never spilled out.”

St. Clairsville Mayor Terry Pugh said the city had fared well so far.

“We had a few trees down,” he said. “According to our rain gage down at the wastewater plant, we had over 7 inches over the whole weekend. Considering that, we feel we didn’t have many problems.”

Meanwhile, Ivan said the river flood predictions were looking slightly more optimistic.

“They’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” Ivan said. “The predictions that they came out with (Monday) morning, since (Monday) morning the prediction has dropped. They were figuring 42.9 (feet, for Powhatan Point).”

He advised residents to take their normal precautions while his office continues to monitor the situation.

Belmont County Sheriff David Lucas said his deputies are standing ready.

“I’m in constant contact with Dave Ivan,” he said. “If there’s any major issues, he’ll contact us and we’ll address each issue as we go.”

Wheeling-Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo was preparing for the worst Monday afternoon, but also said he remained hopeful.

“It’s actually looking pretty good right now,” Vargo said around 3 p.m., while river predictions were trending slightly lower before going higher again. “We’re just waiting for the water to come up.

“We have our road closed signs, public works is out there, the fire department has additional swift water team members on hand,” he said. “We’re working with the National Guard and we’re working with (the city department of) public works, getting ready to clean up the Island.”

In Marshall County, Emergency Management Director Tom Hart said he was cautiously optimistic as the predicted flood levels dropped from over the weekend.

“It’ll still cause some issues and that, but we’re pretty confident that as long as it stays under 42 feet, we shouldn’t have any major issues,” he said. “When they do the forecasts, they have to give half a foot either way. Sometimes they’re right on. It’s just a projection based on the rainfall amount.”

Hart said minor creek flooding Sunday evening had receded by Monday afternoon. He said he spent Monday coordinating with the weather service and with first response teams.

Personnel at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said some trees had fallen into roads, but had been removed by Monday afternoon.

Tyler County Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Cooper said there were no major calls as a result of Monday’s flooding. He said the intake on the Sistersville water plant is not working, so town officials were providing water customers with water from the tanks. He asked that Sistersville residents conserve water.

Wetzel County Emergency Management Director Steven Yoho said there were no major issues there, either. He said there were a few areas with minor flooding in the roads from “backed up” culverts.

Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said the crest predicted in the northern part of the county shouldn’t pose major problems. He said the river has to get to 41 feet to 42 feet before it goes over Ohio 7.

Abdalla said Brilliant, Old State Route 7 in Tiltonsville and Warrenton may be affected by river flooding.

Across the river, Bob Fowler, Brooke County Emergency Management Agency director, said he expects minor flooding in the south end of Wellsburg, with flooding mainly limited to basements.

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