February 22, 2018

South Bend Looking Toward Clean-Up As River Recedes

Original story from   WVPE-FM

Article origination WVPE-FM
The bridge where Jefferson Boulevard crosses the St. Joseph River in South Bend sits just above the waterline on Thursday, Feb. 22. - Jennifer Weingart/WVPE

The bridge where Jefferson Boulevard crosses the St. Joseph River in South Bend sits just above the waterline on Thursday, Feb. 22.

Jennifer Weingart/WVPE

The St. Joseph and Elkhart Rivers have both peaked and are starting to recede. Still some residents living in the flood zone continue to battle water while others start to think about clean-up.

The St. Joseph River peaked last night at 12.7 feet, nearly two feet above the historic flood mark of 10.9 last set in 1993.

A lot of people around South Bend are getting down to the river today to see what historic flooding looks like. Among them was John Daws, a painter taking a break from work.

“I’ve never seen nothing, I’m almost 70 years old, never seen nothing like this in my life. This is epic. Epic proportion.”

People have been pumping that epic water out of basements. Daws said he lives on higher ground but he has been helping…

“My daughter. I was up all night pumping water out of her basement window wells because it kept filling up less then every two hours. So I was pumping it all night long. And saved her basement from being flooded.”

Some people who weren’t so lucky called contractor Mike Robinson. He’s got pumps in several houses along Riverside Drive.

“It’s only keeping up with what’s in there already it’s not stopping anymore from coming in, that won’t happen until the river goes down further.”

Just a few blocks over, Tom Anderson ventured out of his flooded basement to check out the neighborhood.

“Yeah, I’m curious how the rest of the neighborhood is faring. I really haven’t been doing much other then just spending a lot of time in my own basement, I’m...shock and awe.”

Anderson had some tricky moments fighting the water.

“It’s really just unbelievable. We’ve had a little bit of high water from time to time, you know, and keep an extra sump pump but I burned out the extra sump pump so it kind of became critical mass yesterday morning at that point I was getting pretty nervous.”

He’s pulled through. As his pumps are working and water levels start to fall, he’s ventured out to pick up cleaning supplies.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttitgieg said it’s going to be a while before the river falls back to normal.

“It’s going down slowly. We’re still going to be above 12 feet probably for the balance of the day and it will be the month of March before we’re out of flood stage.”

Some of South Bend’s water infrastructure has been inundated by the flooding. The wastewater treatment plant closed completely for about nine hours overnight. It’s back up now.

“First of all, this does not affect city water in any way that’s a separate system so your drinking water, your tap water remains safe for use. Secondly, anything that you’re doing draining, flushing, all of that will continue to function normally so you can continue to use water normally even though the wastewater treatment plant has had issues.”

Some roads are still closed and Buttigieg, along with officials across Michiana are urging residents to heed barriers. The mayor said even if water isn’t present the road may not be structurally safe.

Buttiegieg is also asking county residents to call the Emergency Management Agency to report damage.

“The reason it’s so important to call in to EMA is that in order for us to qualify for any federal disaster aid we need an accurate count of the amount of damage to property that’s occured.”

The city evacuated people yesterday near Emerson Avenue, two families had to be pulled out by boat. South Bend police Chief Scott Ruszkowski says anyone who feels unsafe in their home and needs help to evacuate, can call 911.

As the water levels slowly fall, Buttigieg said the city will begin assessing damage.

Resident Tom Anderson said he doesn’t think the river will ever go back to the way it was.

“I think the riverbank is going to have a different landscape. Everything else is going to look quite a bit different.”

For now water is still well above the river bank in some place and roaring over the dam.


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