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Tom Fields, of Harrison County, gets an escort by an unidentified Alton resident as he pulls his camping trailer to higher ground during last week’s flooding of the Ohio River. Photo by Wade Bell

Ohio River rises, anxiety follows


March 16, 2011
Steady rains during several days began bringing up water levels in rivers and creeks last week, and persons in areas along the Ohio River watched nervously as flood waters approached.

By mid-week, many low-lying fields resembled lakes as rain continued and water accumulated due to the already soaked ground, and drainage systems and routes were overcome as creeks and small streams rose and backed up.

In Alton and old Leavenworth, people who had campers and RVs in areas threatened by the rising water, began moving them to higher ground. In some cases, the owners, many of whom live elsewhere, weren't able to respond in time which left a few campers in floodwaters in the Alton area.

"They took a lot of the campers out yesterday and today," Ron Stone said Thursday.

Stone, who lives along Maple Street in Alton with his wife, Rhonda, has lived in the little river town for about 12 years.

"I think most of the campers were pulled out, but there's still some left, even a couple of nice fifth-wheel trailers, that are now pretty much surrounded by water and there's no way they can get to them now," he said. "But, I think the river is rising a lot slower now than it was earlier. On Tuesday night, it rose about two feet. We're pretty close to the river here, but this house sets high enough that, even though water gets to the edge of our property at times, it doesn't get to the house. This place was built back in 1840 and there have been a lot of floods since then, but it has survived somehow. The water got real close in the 1997 flood, and I think water may have gotten in the house during the 1937 flood because there is, what looks to be, a water-line on the front door."

Stone, who was standing on his porch watching the flood waters nearby as a light rain fell, said the water still was coming up gradually.

"What usually happens is that the Blue River gets out of its banks and backs up the local creeks upriver from us," Stone said. "Then, as the Ohio rises, they kind of meet in this area. The low areas here in town floods first, which usually blocks some streets, and the campground area goes under before any of the older homes. There are about 51 people who live here year-round, and a lot of us have learned to deal with it. It's still a peaceful place to live, and we enjoy it here."

On Thursday, the flood waters were almost up to the bottom of the two bridges on the main road into town. By Friday afternoon, water was lapping up on the floor of one of the bridges.

"I was through here this morning," longtime Alton resident Burton Parr, who drove his truck across the bridge said Friday. "It's only come up about three inches in the last several hours, so I think we've seen the worst of it."

During the weekend, roads into Alton remained passable, but some of the side streets in the town were partially flooded.

"The American Legion is surrounded by water," said Anna Curts, whose husband, Joe, is post commander there. "The only way to get to the Legion (now) is by boat. We had to cancel the shotgun shoot scheduled for Saturday. They had to take in generators by boat because Duke Energy turned off the electricity on Friday. But there was no water in the Legion building, and the river level stayed about the same all weekend. It didn't come up much more. Then, Duke turned the power back on Sunday, even though the water was still up."

In Leavenworth, the water was washing over the street along the Ohio River on Friday and beginning to back up in the camping area, causing some to pull their campers to higher ground. But most year-round residents seemed to be taking it all in stride and life continued as usual.

Officials indicated on Friday that the Ohio River would crest on Monday at Louisville. During the weekend, the upper gauge at McAlpine Locks and Dam was at 26 feet and, by Monday morning, had only raised to 26.5 feet, indicating that the river had, for the most part, crested.

Some rain was predicted for Monday and Tuesday, but officials remained confident that the rain would not be enough to cause the water to begin raising again. That could change if areas upriver received more rain than what is predicted this week.

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