Historic flash flooding overwhelmed interstates

A line of intense thunderstorms that caused historic interstate flash flooding, trapped drivers in 4-foot flood waters and stopped traffic for hours put officials on clean-up detail Thursday.

The Ohio Department of Transportation said it will study the flooding and should have a report within three weeks. The study will draw on the expertise of hydraulic and design engineers.

Three sections of highway were hit: Interstate 75 in Miami County, in two places, and I-70 in Huber Heights in the vicinity of Bellefontaine Road. ODOT said it rerouted motorists to I-675.

In Miami County cities and in northern Clark County, intersections and basements flooded.

The Huber Heights highway flooding was by far the worst, ODOT said. It was an area bordered by Ohio 201 and Ohio 202. Water shut down the highway for a quarter-mile from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Eight vehicles were stranded in the high water and drivers had to be rescued.

Traffic cameras showed frustrated drivers making U-turns and driving in the wrong direction on the interstate to exit and find another route. Other motorists could be seen exiting their cars and walking on the interstate. Ohio 4 southbound became an escape route for some.

In the I-70 flood, water overwhelmed Dry Run Creek. That creek feeds Drylick Run, which travels east beneath the highway through a catch-basin.

Bob Lenzer, ODOT’s Montgomery County manager, called it the worst interstate flooding in the region in at least 30 years, perhaps since the interstate was built. His crews cleaned off a three-quarter-inch silt deposit on the highway.

Record rainfall

The deluge dumped 3.55 inches of rain on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in four hours, breaking an all-time record for the date — 1.1 inches — set in 1947, base spokesman Daryl Mayer said. It was the ninth-highest total rainfall recorded at the base in one day.

The heaviest rain fell between 6 and 7 p.m. Base weather watchers recorded 1.8 inches within the hour.

In Bethel Twp. in Clark County, firefighters and police in boats rescued residents from waist-deep water that flooded an apartment complex. Crews began receiving 911 calls at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, as water submerged cars and entered apartments at the Laynecrest Manor Apartments in the 11000 block of Gerlaugh Road.

Sinkholes opened up on Ohio 202 in Bethel Twp., just north of Huber Heights, closing the road, and on Fourth Street in Tipp City between Franklin and Park streets.

“Mother Nature really hit us between the eyes on this one,” said Randy Chevalley, Deputy Director of ODOT District 7. “Thank God there was not another storm behind it. We can’t design a highway system to handle a storm of that magnitude, but we’ll have a study to see what our structures can handle.”

I-75 was shut down at the 71.4 mile marker when water swept over two-tenths of a mile of interstate. Another section closed further north from the 73 mile marker to 74 mile marker near the interchange with Ohio 41.

There was one water rescue there by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Both directions closed at 7:15 p.m. and north-bound lanes opened at midnight and southbound lanes after 1 a.m., said ODOT spokeswoman Denise Heitkamp.

Designing for such extraordinary storms is virtually impossible, Chevalley said.

“But we’ll take a look at it,” he added. “So much water came down so fast in such a short period of time and there was nowhere for it to go. The rescue teams did an awesome job. We have lucked out that there was no loss of life.”

A 3-foot section of a blacktopped concrete bridge above Dryrun Creek was washed away, rendering it unusable at Carriage Hill MetroParks.

The bridge is not meant for the public and is used by employees to get to a maintenance garage, MetroParks said. The bridge washout marooned tractors, mowers and other heavy equipment, said Jon Moyer, acting park manager.

Rain descended Wednesday night at up to 4 inches per hour, said McCall Vrydaghs, NewsCenter 7 meteorologist.

Tipp City hit hard

Tipp City in Miami County received the most rain of area cities, recording a 5.24-inch deluge. Huber Heights received 4.09 inches. By contrast, Dayton received about a quarter-inch and its southern suburbs received little more than sprinkles.

The Miami Valley Conservancy District said that areas in Miami County received 5 inches of rain in a two-hour period.

“The ditches, creeks and storm sewers just couldn’t handle the runoff, creating the localized flooding,” said Kurt Rinehart, Miami Conservancy District Chief Engineer.

When the localized floodwater receded, it flowed to the Mad and Great Miami rivers, which passed the water downstream within the river channels. Without its flood protection system, the floodwater could have overflowed the river channel, flooding downstream cities, the Conservancy District said.

Huber Heights Battalion Chief Keith Knisley said the water mounted the highway retaining wall that is more than 4 feet high. Knisley said emergency crews were concentrating on rescuing people trapped in high water. Drivers who were trapped but safe on I-70 were a secondary priority.

The situation was similar in Miami County. High water and disabled vehicles made I-75 impassable in the north and southbound lanes near Ohio 36 and Farrington, where the Great Miami River runs near the interstate. Traffic was at a standstill on both sides of I-75 just north of Tipp City.

Trucker Diana Roepcke remained mired in the standstill on I-75 north. She was headed to Canada and was supposed to be there by 3 a.m. Thursday.

“Drivers are just pulled over and sleeping,” the Fairborn resident said. “I gotta keep moving forward.”

Just after 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Ohio Department of Transportation crews used snow plows to push water and debris out of the way to allow cars to move again on I-75.

In Clark County, at the height of flooding, county engineer Johnathan Burr said water was 2 1/2 feet deep across Ridgewood Road east.

“I could see the very tip top of a fire hydrant,” he said. “People were driving around our county vehicles that were blocking the roadway, even when we had our lights on.”

Staff writer Barrie Barber and the Breaking News Team contributed to this report.

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