Severe Weather Thrashes Ohio, Causes Evacuation
NEWARK, Ohio (AP) _ Heavy rains forced the temporary evacuation of up to 10,000 people today, including 2,000 living near a man-made lake whose retaining wall was in danger of collapse, authorities said.
But by midday the weather was improving and officials said most residents would be able to return home later today.
Gov. Richard Celeste visited Buckeye Lake after declaring Licking County in a state of emergency because of flooding and the threat of collapse of the wall that partially surrounds the lake. He said he would ask President Bush to declare Licking County a disaster area.
″If that wall goes, that whole area is going to be underwater,″ Randy Spiker, deputy director of the Licking County disaster services agency, said earlier today.
The evacuations in Licking County began shortly before dawn. The National Weather Service said 2 to 4 inches of rain fell overnight in central and north central Ohio.
About 50 Ohio National Guard troops helped volunteers reinforce the wall with sandbags and assisted with evacuations of about 2,000 residents of Buckeye Lake, about 30 miles east of Columbus.
The state has been battered by heavy rains since Thursday. Weather service forecasters said rainfall could total 6 inches in some areas. Many areas were so soaked that any additional rainfall was sure to cause localized flooding, the weather service said.
Because of the prospect of flooding at Buckeye Lake, 12 miles of Interstate 70 were closed for a short time this morning, said Beverly Schell, dispatcher at the Granville post of the state highway patrol. She said some exits remained blocked to all but emergency traffic.
This morning, there were three small leaks in the earthen wall that partially surrounds Buckeye Lake. While the fear that they would grow into larger leaks had ebbed by midday, the situation would still be monitored, authorities said.
Edward L. Frank, who manages the lake for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said, ″If we had gotten the amount of water we expected around 3 a.m., life in these parts would have changed radically.″ But Frank said he believed the lake would maintain its present level and the wall would withstand the pressure.
The 3,400-acre Buckeye Lake covers parts of three central Ohio counties. It was created in the 19th century to hold water for the Ohio Canal.
About 2,000 residents of the town of Buckeye Lake were evacuated. In addition, flooding forced the evacuation of about 3,000 people in south Newark living near the Licking River and campers at a racetrack, authorities said. Spiker said as many as 5,000 other county residents may have been displaced temporarily, while others had been asked be on standby for possible evacuation orders.
Several evacuation centers were set up around the county.
Celeste declared a state of emergency, activating the Ohio National Guard and summoning equipment from the Ohio Department of Transportation, said Stacie Gilg, public information officer for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.
Tornados and thunderstorms sparked localized flooding around Ohio. There were no reports of major damage, but a Wayne County man was missing and feared drowned after falling from a dam.
The Friday night storms followed a round of heavy rain that caused urban and small-stream flooding early in the morning and knocked out power to thousands of customers.
Buckeye Lake covers parts of three central Ohio counties and is a man-made lake created in the 19th century to hold water for the Ohio Canal.