Unusual March weather challenges county workers

Beth Rumsey, Staff Writer

The old adage, March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, certainly proved true for Ripley County residents this year. A snow storm began on March 7 and dumped nearly 16 inches of snow throughout the county. Local schools were dismissed early as well as many business and county offices. Due to dangerous road conditions, the Ripley County Commissioners declared a Level II snow emergency, advising residents to stay off the roads except for emergencies.

According to Junior Heaton, Ripley County Highway Department supervisor, his crew of 28 employees worked late into the evening on Saturday, March 8 to clear the roads. The crew continued to clear the snow from roadways on Sunday, ending about 4 p.m. “We never ran out of salt,” Heaton noted, adding, “We were low, but we didn’t run out.” He said by using a combination of salt and cinders, the county highway department was able to get the roads back to normal. The commissioners commended the highway department on a job well done at their March 10 meeting, with Commissioner President Robert Reiners saying, “They did an excellent job.”

Nearly two weeks later, heavy rains began to fall causing flood conditions in many areas of Ripley County. Many roads throughout the county were under water and were closed. According to Heaton, Cave Hill Road in Versailles and County Road 575 in Friendship were probably where the worst flooding occurred. He stated that he and his crew worked late in the night on Tuesday, March 18 and into Wednesday morning, in all three districts putting up road-closed signs. The commissioners declared a Level I emergency, the first anyone can remember for flood conditions. Schools in the county were delayed, with both South Ripley and Cave Hill Academy eventually closing for the day.
Slick road conditions caused a semi carrying a cleaning solvent to overturn on US 50, which closed the road for several hours on March 17. According to EMA Director, Wayne Peace, the dilution rate of the solvent was high, and would have no effect on the water downstream.

Peace worked with Indiana Department of Emergency Management (IDEM) by providing surveillance work of the flood and reporting back to IDEM. A Local Emergency Proclamation was signed by the commissioners at their March 25 meeting. According to Peace, by providing documentation and photos of the flood, the state can locate the flood areas on maps for future reference. This documentation may help the county to receive a portion of the expenses incurred by the county during the flood.

Individuals and businesses affected by the flooding now have the task of cleaning up. The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) has provided tips for safely cleaning up a home or business after the floodwaters have receded. ISDH recommends waiting until the water recedes to clean up. Injuries can occur due to slippery conditions, poor visibility or electrical shock. Electricity needs to be turned off before cleaning and drying light fixtures. Carpets may be saved by vacuuming the excess water, then shampooing. Make certain that the carpet is completely dry. Items that can be salvaged should be washed in a bleach solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water.

Some items cannot be salvaged after a flood. Items that should be discarded are paper products, insulation, drywall, wet ceiling tiles and baseboards. Mattresses that have been soaked with the floodwater should be discarded.

According to ISDH, standing water is a breeding ground for microorganisms. These microorganisms post a serious health risk to those individuals with respiratory problems such as asthma or allergies. The ISDH reminds everyone who has been exposed to the floodwaters to wash their hands with warm, soapy water.

Individuals are reminded to prepare well in advance of a flood emergency. The ISDH advises residents to have at least a three day supply of fresh water, food, and medicines for every member of the household.

For more information, visit the Indiana State Department of Health website at www.statehealth.IN.gov.