Volunteers pull together to battle flooding in Midwest

Thursday, July 10, 2003

DECATUR, Ind. -- Volunteers, National Guardsmen and a football team joined efforts Wednesday to protect homes surrounded by flooding caused by five days of thunderstorms.

The St. Marys River in northeastern Indiana was at record levels, and several hundred homes around Decatur had been flooded or were threatened by high water.

Streams from Fort Wayne to Lafayette and farther south were overflowing their banks at levels not seen in decades, and more storms were forecast Wednesday. Streams also were out of their banks in parts of Ohio, where some areas have had 15 inches of rain since Friday.

Evacuations were under way Wednesday at Alexandria, about 30 miles north of Indianapolis, where rising water flowed over a levee along Pipe Creek, police dispatcher Steve Gipe said.

"They've just gotten the football team to start sandbagging," said Diane Woodsides, director of the Alexandria Community Center. "There are a lot of people in the community who have either stopped by the Police Department or here, they're willing to do what they can to help."

Fewer than a dozen homes were evacuated in Alexandria, a town of about 6,000 people, said C.R. Brown, executive director Madison County Emergency Management.

Farther north, in Decatur, hundreds of people worked around the community filling and stacking sandbags.

In one neighborhood, a line of about 50 friends, neighbors and National Guardsmen passed sandbags to people working in chest-deep water to rebuild a dike around the back of a house.

The St. Marys River at Decatur was at 26.9 feet Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. Flood stage is 17 feet.

"The flooding is terrible, but it's great to see how the community has pulled together," Stacy Jester said as neighbors piled sandbags around her home.

Across the state line in northwest Ohio, there have been a few evacuations from communities with standing water.

Fifteen homes were evacuated in Lakeview, a community 60 miles northwest of Columbus, said Logan County Sheriff Michael Henry. At Celina, near the Indiana line, Grand Lake St. Marys has been overflowing since the weekend, threatening homes and businesses.

Thousands of homes and businesses across the Midwest have lost electrical service during nearly a week of rough weather.

Three weekend deaths were blamed on the weather in Indiana. Seven people drowned along Lake Michigan beaches on Friday after thunderstorms churned up waves and riptides.

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