Ohio Residents Prepare for Floods

The Ohio River (search) at Cincinnati is the highest it's been in nearly eight years.

Overflowing rivers and streams across the state are forcing numerous evacuations and creating a nuisance for commuters and business operators as well as homeowners.

But many people who live or work along a river learn to expect seasonal flooding.

"It's no big deal. We get some sort of high water every year or two," said Ron Smith, owner of Kellogg Auto Parts on Cincinnati's east side. "I've been here since 1976, so I've seen it all."

This year, several days of rain followed a snowstorm and raised the river to five feet over flood stage, its highest level since 1997.

"This one put us out of business a couple days," Smith said.

The difference between a flash flood, which can be dangerous to people and devastating to property, and a rising river is that people have time to prepare for "normal" flooding.

"These last few days is just a normal Marietta flood, something we're used to every year," said Ted Baker, fire chief in Marietta, where many areas — including downtown streets — are underwater and firefighters have performed seven rescues in the past few days.

"It came up slow, we had plenty of time to get people prepared," Baker said. "The slow-rising, normal high water is part of life in southeast Ohio. Downtown merchants are upbeat; this is what we expect."

Kellogg Avenue in Cincinnati runs parallel to the river, past homes, soccer fields, Riverbend Music Center (search) and River Downs race track.

Some years, when the river overflows in late spring, Riverbend Music Center has to postpone concerts until the mud and debris is cleaned from the amphitheater. Water often covers the track at River Downs (search), which doesn't matter because the track has live racing only in the summer, and the Race Book remains open unless water prevents access to the clubhouse.

Tom Brush lived on a houseboat near Riverbend for 10 years before moving to Ann Arbor, Mich., to be near his grandchildren.

"We went through the flood of '97," Brush said Thursday. "Most of the people got out, but we stayed. We had to park our car up on a hill. We'd kayak across the soccer fields to the car to go to work.

"It feels good to be able to go to bed at night without going out to check the lines and worrying about some big log floating down the river hitting the boat."

Flooding concerns remained for emergency officials in many Ohio counties early Friday, but they were easing as rain continued to push its way east out of the state overnight.

Some voluntary evacuations took place Thursday night as a precaution. In north central Ohio, some residents evacuated near Charles Mill Lake just east of Mansfield because of high water. Authorities in Coshocton County asked residents of Wills Creek and the surrounding area to evacuate after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to do an emergency release of water from the Wills Creek dam.

In Tuscarawas County, where authorities on Thursday advised about 6,400 residents around Wilkshire Hills, Zoar and Mineral City to evacuate, emergency officials were more optimistic early Friday.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which has been doing controlled releases to relieve buildup at the Dover Dam in Tuscarawas County, said the rain had turned to snow flurries there.

"That's what we want, because the colder it gets, the more it slows down runoff and drainage," said Corps spokesman Stan Rosenblatt.

Officials in Marietta were also feeling better. The Ohio River in the southern Ohio city was expected to rise only another couple of feet or so before cresting around noon Friday.

This is the second time in four months that Marietta has had to deal with flooding.

"People were a little tense because of what happened in September, and that was unusual for this area," Baker said. "It used to be March and April was flood season; now we're seeing floods in winter, spring, summer and fall."

Baker said Marietta is caught in a dilemma. The city loves the Ohio River, even though it's sometimes inconvenient, and doesn't want to install a floodwall to cut off the city from its riverfront.

"We promote the river with our sternwheel festival. It would be hard to have a floodwall and still promote the rest of the city," Baker said. "But this time there seems to be more talk about a floodwall than any time I've heard."

The National Weather Service said early Friday that some rain lingered in eastern Ohio, but should end overnight as temperatures dropped. About an inch of snow was possible in northern Ohio with mostly flurries expected in the south.