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Ohio Valley Top 10: No. 3 — Heavy Rain Led To River Floods And Damage

File Photo by Scott McCloskey Flood waters consume the field at Wheeling Island Stadium in February. The Ohio River came over its banks twice during 2018, causing costly damage.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Intelligencer presents a look back at the past year today through Sunday with the top 10 stories of 2018, as voted on by the newspaper’s editorial staff.

From Staff Reports

WHEELING — The Ohio River spilled its banks twice in 2018 as people in the Upper Ohio Valley braced themselves for what forecasters initially said could be the worst flooding in more than a decade.

The river never rose as high as meteorologists at the National Weather in Pittsburgh thought it might, and no one suffered serious injuries or died from flooding in the local region in 2018. But heavy rain throughout the year still took its toll on basements, roads and even high school football.

In February, the river reached its peak for the year in Wheeling when it crested at 38.93 feet, according to the weather service. Flood stage in Wheeling is 36 feet. In September, the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon came through and left their mark, too. The river reached 38.34 feet in Wheeling, which was well shy of the 42 feet forecasters had predicted.

Had the river met those prediction, it would have been the worst flooding on the Ohio River at Wheeling since January 2005. The river crested at 42.17 feet in the city at that time.

Although most people were relieved when major flooding didn’t happen, both events still caused problems. Much of the damage occurred on Wheeling Island, which is particularly prone to flooding. Wheeling Island Stadium also had some damage and was covered in mud, while some homeowners had water flood their basements twice in the same year.

In September, one emergency official said the floods affected everyone in different ways.

“If your basement or garage has 5 1/2 feet of water in it, it’s not minor to you,” said Lou Vargo, director of Wheeling-Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The damage to Wheeling Island Stadium caused concerns of a different kind. In November, just before the Super Six state high school football championship games were about to kick off, an Ohio County Schools board member expressed concerns about bacteria that might be lurking in the soggy field.

David Croft, who had been elected to the board earlier in the year, also said he was concerned that mud kept coming to the surface whenever Wheeling Park High School played its games there.

“There are other markets that would love the chance to take (Super Six) from us, and I don’t want to give them that opportunity,” Croft said.

But his fears were eased when concerns about bacteria — and muddy conditions — didn’t deter players from taking the field. Still, during their last meeting of the year, board of education members said AstroTurf, the manufacturer of the artificial turf at the stadium, would come in to expose the mud, let it dry and then brush it off.

Meanwhile, even when the water didn’t crest above flood stage on the river, rain and severe weather caused problems throughout 2018. Roads were hit the hardest in West Virginia and Ohio, as some of them slipped away over muddy hillsides. County and municipal officials applied in a flurry for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, while others protested to state highway officials that not enough was being done to fix the roads quickly.

In Moundsville, more than 100 people met earlier this month to talk about the deteriorating condition of roads. One of the leaders of that charge was Marshall County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Crook.

“Somebody’s going to get killed, and we need to fix the roads before that,” he said at the meeting.

West Virginia Division of Highways District 6 Engineer Dave Brabham said in June that nearly $20 million in damages may have been inflicted on Marshall County roads from the February flooding. The road conditions are so bad there that Crook said during the December meeting that the school district has considered closing some of its bus routes. In November, a bus slipped off the side of Dragon Highway as a result of a road slip. A high school sophomore riding that bus was taken to Wheeling Hospital for injuries she sustained when that happened.

The situation wasn’t much better on the other side of the river. Dave Ivan, Belmont County Emergency Management Agency director, said in April that the county applied for FEMA assistance for $13 million worth of damaged roads and bridges that occurred from floods between Feb. 14 and Feb. 25. The cost of fixing that damage also contributed to Belmont County raising its license plate fee in May by three $5 permissible levies, which essentially are user fees for vehicle registrations. It was the first time in 50 years that the county had raised those fees.

Belmont County also had some unique weather damage in June that wasn’t directly related to rain. A microburst struck the county near Colerain. Originally thought to be a tornado, the powerful storm blew over barns and ripped the roof off a house. No one was injured.

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