Friday night was scheduled to be one of celebration in Salem, with the annual Friday Night on the Square festival.
But it ended in chaos as 18 feet of water flooded three main areas of the city — Water Street, East Market Street and Main Street in the city, bringing ruined businesses, no electricity and millions of dollars in damage due to flash flooding along Brock Creek and Blue River.
Heavy thunderstorms moved into the area and dumped nearly six inches of rain within 45 minutes.
According to the US Geological Survey, Blue River crested last night at 18 feet at 8:15p.
That’s almost a foot above the last major flood from Blue River, which swelled its banks in 2004 to a whopping 17.1 feet.
“It wasn’t looking good for the festival,” said Becky White, WSLM owner who was planning on bringing her KARAOKE LIVE to the annual event. “We – along with many other organizations and businesses – had been getting ready all morning and when the weather warnings broke out, it was pretty clear the festival was going to be cancelled.”
With severe thunderstorm warnings cropping up over much of the WSLM LISTENING AREA, tornadoes were also spotted in English and Jefferson County, IN.
Many feel this is worse than the Flood of 2004, in which cars were swept off Water Street and several businesses were ruined.
White said the station’s weather equipment measured around 6″ of total rainfall for the day, bringing the total for May up to over 10 inches.
Danny Walton, who owns and operates Danny’s Heating and Air Conditioning, which is near Blue River, said his business is a loss.
“This is way worse than what was the 100 year flood ten years ago,” said Walton. “This is like a 1000 year flood! I looked out the door at one point, and one of my trucks was gone. We lost everything in the building. We lost three trucks.”
Walton said they were swept down Blue River, along with semi-trucks from a nearby lot, and all of that is now stuck under the Main Street bridge.
One of his trucks was spotted this morning, about a quarter-mile west of his store; sunk in deep and surrounded by Blue River’s gravel down to the window line.
Walton also owns Guitars Strings and Things and said a lot of the equipment is ruined, as well as his air conditioning equipment.
“I kept working and saw water coming under the door,” Walton said. “I had 3-4 feet of water in the building and had to call 911. I didn’t want to open the door until I saw what it was like.”
Joe Kacknavage, owner of Salem Lumber, was in good spirits late in the evening, watching the surrounding lumber bob in the water.
“We’re about six foot under water,” he said. “Back in 2004, we got up to about four feet. All the way through the store – we had lumber floating down the creek…over a six foot fence.”
Kacknavage said he was at home doing chores and by the time he got back to the store it was too late. “I can’t get in. It’ll be down in the morning. We’ll have lumber up and down the street. It will be scattered everywhere. It’s done. We’ve lost everything at the feed mill — bagged feed and everything. There will be people in here Saturday morning but we can’t help them.”
Other businesses along Water Street and Main Street were flooded, including the lot containing El Camino, Subway and others.
SEARCH AND RESCUE
Emergency workers in southern Indiana converged on Salem to rescue people from high water.
There have been no injuries reported so far, but crews made several water rescues.
“It just rained and rained and rained, and next thing you know, this is what you got,” said Salem Mayor Troy Merry. “It’s a heartbreaking situation, but we will get through it.”
He said there were no mandatory evacuations at this point, but there was a travel advisory in place. People were being asked not to leave their homes Friday night.
People were circulating that Washington County was under a state of emergency Friday evening about 7p.
WSLM contacted Desi Alexander, Washington County Emergency Management Agency Director and she clarified that the City of Salem and other areas were under an Emergency Travel Restriction.
“Basically, we were trying to get everyone off the roads for their protection and so emergency personnel could get around,” she said this morning. “It’s still a good idea to stay home and stay out of the way of emergency workers.”
Indiana Department of Homeland Security said a travel warning had been issued for the area. A travel warning is the highest level of local travel advisory. It means that travel can be restricted to emergency responders only.
Indiana DHS is asking that people in that area:
- Refrain from all travel;
- Comply with necessary emergency measures;
- Cooperate with public officials and disasters services forces in executing emergency operations plans; and
- Obey and comply with the lawful directions of properly identified officers.
Water rescues were underway last night at several places around the county, including on Elizabeth Street. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources used an air boat to help those stranded in their homes to get out.
Duke Energy stayed on the scene trying to get power back to what their outtage map website showed at one time to be around 1,700 people.
This morning, Chip Orban, Duke Energy Government and Community Relations spokesperson, said the flooding put pressure on lines in the city which snapped several poles.
“We’re got about 650 without power as of now,” Organ said about 9:30a.
He said there were outside contracts, some from as far away as 300 miles, in Salem working to get the power back on.
“We’re trying to isolate [the problem] around the bridge and pick up as many people as we can,” Orban said.
Officials estimate there is millions of dollars in damage.
Walking along Blue River and High Street, workers moved in early to cut trees out of the way so power lines could be repaired.
Dozens of power poles along High Street are snapped off and lay in the street, on top of each other and in one case on one home.
“Before we can energize power back, we have to get the tanks out [from around the bridge], said Washington County Commissioner Phil Marshall. “They were empty and there’s nothing hazardous there. Duke wants to clear out the trees and the two semi-trailers out.”
Two semi-trailers were swept into to the bridge. Both are filled with wet recycled paper, which ads thousands of pounds to the weight of the trailers.
Marshall said large cranes were on the way to pull them out.
“The three phase line has to be rebuilt back to the bridge. It’s going to be two days to get this built back to here. Most of the town is own. Getting it all to mesh together is the big issue,” said Marshall.
Jason Cockerill was on the scene, reaching out on behalf of US Representative Trey Hollingsworth.
Cockerill said the federal money would come when the State of Indiana issued a disaster declaration. Once that was done, then federal monies could and would be released.
Commissioner Rick Roberts said it’s a Catch 22 situation. “We want to clear all of this up, but the disaster monies (which pay 75 percent and we pay 25 percent) only kick in once they have granted the money. Any work we do before that is on Washington County. We have to play by their rules.”
Washington County Council member Ben Boling was on hand to let the commissioners know that whatever was spent in the clean up would be approved.
The American Red Cross is in town and going door to door to both residents and businesses to begin assessing the damage.
Several churches and organizations have reached out to help, including the Care Pregnancy Center and the Washington County Family YMCA serving food in the afternoon.
The Y has also opened its facilities up to those needing showers and somewhere to go while the flood waters recede.
Marshall said their bridge engineer had checked the bridge at Main Street and said it was structurally in good shape.
When the tanks and semi trucks struck the bridge, they demolished a portion of the railing on the east side of the bridge.
It will remain closed until the electric service is repaired.
High Street, parts of Old State Road 60 and Main Street remain closed in spots to local traffic.
In case any business or resident needs to reach Duke Energy, their emergency contact number is 1.800.343.3525