Floods, rescues follow rains

of The Herald Staff

JASPER — Heavy weekend rainfall that dropped more than 4 inches of precipitation on some parts of Dubois County swamped roads and led to three local water rescues.

A call for the county’s first rescue came at 10:41 a.m. Saturday. It was answered by the Ferdinand Volunteer Fire Department.

Members of the department and two Ferdinand Police Department officers responded to the 9300 block of Ferdinand Road Northwest where a small passenger car occupied by driver Erica Nunez, 35, 401 S. Meridian St., Holland, her mother, 65-year-old Gregoria Nunez, and three children, 8-year-old Jasmine Mirelles, 5-year-old Ashley Mireres and 4-year-old Eric Mireres, had flooded out just off the travel surface in an area where the roadway was under more than 2 1/2 feet of water.

Fire Chief Dan Lindauer said Erica Nunez was driving east on Ferdinand Road Northwest and already had driven through other flooded sections where water was crossing the road when the car stalled in a section of the roadway where more than 400 yards of the travel surface was covered by rushing water.

The family had safely exited the vehicle and was waiting on the high point of the road when help arrived, Lindauer said. Firefighter Grant Kippenbrock and Tim Beck, a local educator with the Indiana Department of Resources’ law enforcement division, each used their four-wheel-drive, crew-cab pickup trucks to drive out to the family and take them to a staging area at county roads 75E and 850W where they were medically cleared.

The family was lucky, Lindauer said. The car stopped just off the edge of the roadway and easily could have been swept into a nearby ditch where swiftly moving water would have submerged the car.
“That water was moving pretty rapidly,” Lindauer said.

Two trucks and 28 firefighters were on the scene for 30 minutes. Memorial Hospital Emergency Medical Services assisted.

Just before 7 p.m. Saturday, Indiana conservation officers rescued Michael D. Christmas, 30, of Velpen from floodwaters near Otwell.

Pike County Highway Superintendent Josh Byrd was placing road barriers on flooded Pike County Road 900E when he heard calls for help coming from somewhere in the surrounding floodwaters. Byrd contacted dispatch at 6:52 p.m. and the Jefferson Township Volunteer Fire Department, Pike County Sheriff’s Department and conservation officers responded to the scene.

Conservation officers Jon Watkins and Shane Cooper had been responding to similar flood-related calls throughout the afternoon and were equipped to address the emergency, Indiana Department of Natural Rescources spokesman Mike Kellner said.

Cooper and Watkins launched a patrol boat and began a search of nearby flooded cornfields. Christmas was found around 9:30 p.m., about 100 yards into the floodwaters, clinging to a bridge abutment. By the time of the rescue, Kellner said, Christmas had been in the water about three hours.

The victim told authorities he was on his way home from where he worked in Otwell and decided to attempt to ride his all-terrain vehicle through the flooded roadway. As the water became deeper near a bridge, he decided to turn around.

Authorities said Christmas’ ATV began to float and got caught in the current. Christmas was separated from the machine and he was carried some distance with the current until he was able to latch onto some vegetation and regain his footing. Because it was dark, authorities said, he was unable to find high ground. Now barefoot, he returned to the bridge, the only high point he knew.

Christmas was transported to Memorial Hospital in Jasper by Pike County EMS; he was treated for hypothermia and released.

At 7:34 a.m. Sunday, the Ireland Volunteer Fire Department was called to the report of a man inside a pickup truck stranded in high water near Kessner Bridge northeast of Duff.

Fire Chief Stan Seifert said Michael Tubbs, of 480 Contrad Ave., Jasper, was westbound on County Road 150S when the Ford F-150 pickup truck he was driving on the flooded roadway slipped into a ditch carrying water that was about 2 feet deep.

Seifert and another firefighter were able to approach the truck from high ground and assist Tubbs to safety.

One truck and 10firefighters were on the scene for about an hour. The Dubois County Sheriff’s Department also assisted.

Weekend rainfall amounts ranged from the 4.47 inches that the Dubois County Emergency Management Agency reported in Celestine to the 3.65 inches recorded in Jasper. Ferdinand’s weekend precipitation total was 3.7 inches. Other totals reported by the county EMA office were 4.05 inches in Cuzco, 4.15 inches in Portersville and 4.41 inches in Huntingburg.

The 3.65 inches of rain that fell on Jasper on Saturday was the rainiest day in the city since a 5.65-inch soaker March 18, 2008. For the month, Jasper has collected 6.14 inches of rain, well ahead of the usual 2.95 inches. For the year, Jasper precipitation reached 49.10 inches, again ahead of the usual amount of 46.18 on this date.

The steady downpour pushed the Patoka Reservoir elevation to 540.89 feet this morning. The lake, which rose more than 2 feet in just two days, had not seen an elevation of 540 or more since March 2012. The Patoka River three miles north of Jasper surged to 15.83 feet early this morning, its highest point since May 2011.

The spillway at Huntingburg City Lake went from a spirited trickle Friday to the white-water torrent that is still running about a foot below the riprapped drainage ditch below it today.

Temperatures in Jasper topped 60 degrees Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but Mother Nature’s wily winter will continue its fluctuations; predicted highs for Christmas Eve sit in the middle 20s, while lows this week will dip into the 20s and teens.

Contact Bill Powell at bpowell@dcherald.com.
Contact Jason Recker at jrecker@dcherald.com.

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