Storms dumped as much as 10 inches of rain on already saturated ground in central Indiana on Saturday, threatening dams, forcing evacuations, inundating highways and killing at least one person.Officials in 18 counties declared disasters, and shelters were set up for hundreds of residents who were forced from their homes by rising water.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security confirmed late Saturday night that one person had died as a result of the flooding in Columbus, but did not immediately release other details about the death.State Homeland Security Director Joe Wainscott said officials had no idea of the scope of evacuations, many by boat, but no fewer than several hundred homes and businesses were affected.Ninety percent of the small town of Paragon, southwest of Indianapolis, was underwater, Wainscott said. Flooding was extensive in Terre Haute and Spencer, he said.Johnson County Emergency Management Director Forrest Sutton told 6News that the flooding was "likely the largest and most costly disaster we've ever had."Gov. Mitch Daniels issued a new disaster declaration because of flooding in 10 counties, separate from the one he issued Friday for 41 counties because of storm damage. Those counties are: Brown, Clay, Greene, Johnson, Monroe, Morgan, Owen, Shelby, Vermillion and Vigo.The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched two rescue helicopters to Indianapolis, where they could be sent to flooded areas as needed.A scuba team had performed swift-water rescues and helped evacuate homes in Johnson County, sheriff's dispatcher Zachary Elliott said.Dams in the county were failing in the Prince's Lakes area, threatening the town of Nineveh about 30 miles south of Indianapolis, county Commissioner Tom Kite said.Columbus Regional Hospital was evacuated Saturday evening as water surrounded the campus.Water had reached the first floor of Johnson Memorial Hospital in Franklin, Kite said. Cars were submerged up to their windshields in the county government building parking lot, and Indiana National Guard troops rerouted traffic around the main street through Franklin.Flooding on the White River in some areas south of Indianapolis over the next couple days could reach levels comparable to the historic flood of 1913, said National Weather Service hydrologist Al Shipe. That area was saturated with 4 to 11 inches of rain overnight and Saturday and flash flood warnings were issued for 15 counties."It's been a rough morning for a lot of folks," NWS meteorologist Joseph Nield said.Franklin resident Saralee Mann, 68, had 5 feet of flood water in her backyard and 3 feet of murky water in her basement, but planned to ride the storm out."It'll go away as quickly as it came up," said Mann, who has lived in the home for 49 years. "It's just that it's got to quit raining before it goes down."Near Martinsville, southwest of Indianapolis, Ben Pace watched motorboats moving through his Morgan County community rescuing neighbors.Pace said the rain didn't seem that bad when he woke up, but he then watched water rise 6 to 8 inches in his backyard shed."Then I realized that it's worse than it's ever been," he said.A rescuer came by boat to his front door to get him. He managed to grab some clothes and his dog, leaving the home that had knee-deep water in his bedroom.The American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis opened numerous shelters for flooding victims. The Marion and Johnson County shelter is at Community Church of Greenwood, at 1477 W. Main St.The Red Cross urged anyone who needs assistance to call 317-684-1441.In Shelby County, evacuees were sent to the Salvation Army headquarters, at 136 E. Washington St. in Shelbyville. Two shelters in Morgan County were consolidated to Martinsville High School.Another shelter in Johnson County was set up at the Indian Creek Elementary School, at 200 W. Pearl St., in Trafalgar.Two buildings and the central mall at Franklin College were flooded and two residence halls were damaged, said Lisa Fears, a college vice president.State police reported evacuations in the Lake Lemon area about 10 miles northeast of Bloomington. Dams near Gold Point were close to collapse, police said.Interstate 70 was closed in Clay County in west-central Indiana. Interstate reopened in both directions at about 9 p.m. Saturday after it was blocked for several hours near Franklin.U.S. 31 was closed in Johnson and Bartholomew counties, stranding many motorists who had no place else to go. In Morgan County, state roads 67 and 37 were both closed.Residents of evacuated Helmsburg, about 40 miles south of Indianapolis, were loaded onto buses and taken to a YMCA in Nashville, Brown County Red Cross Chairman Wayne Freeman said.In western Indiana, water more than a foot deep flowed quickly around houses on Terre Haute's east side.J.D. Kesler, deputy director of the Vigo County Emergency Management Agency, said more than 200 people had to be rescued from their homes, vehicles and nursing homes after 6 to 9 inches of rain fell within 12 hours. U.S. 41 was the only route open into Terre Haute, and it was down to one lane by mid-afternoon."The ground is just saturated. When you get this much rain, it's flash flood time," Kesler said.More than 30,000 electric customers lost power, the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission said.Thunderstorms with torrential rain trained over the same area for several hours, causing the flooding.