ST. MARYS — When Auglaize County EMA Director Troy Anderson woke up Feb. 28, 2011, he admitted he could not have imagined how the day would unfold.
“The first thing that came to mind getting up that morning was that it didn’t look like it would be a bad situation,” Anderson said of the flood that gripped the county last year. “I don’t think any of us thought that by 8 a.m. there would be calls coming into dispatch requesting assistance with evacuations.”
Anderson said a tornado warning earlier in the morning in the Uniopolis/Waynesfield area caught his attention. However, a steady downpour on top of several inches of frozen, packed snow was a recipe for disaster.
“It was a domino effect,” Anderson said. “It stacked up against us and just let loose.”
By 4 a.m., calls were coming in from Uniopolis seeking assistance evacuating homes because of high water. Wapakoneta’s water rescue team was dispatched to the area.
“We had 4 feet of water flowing into the back portion of the village from the Auglaize River,” Anderson said.
“Then it just escalated from there. We went from the east side of the county to the west side of the county with calls coming in from south of St. Marys regarding odors of gas or diesel fuel. What we found was there were a lot of farm fields that were flooded and the water was going into old underground oil and gas wells and the water was causing the products to purge up.”
Shortly after that, crews started the process of evacuating 117 people from a trailer park. Then, Anderson said the city of St. Marys called seeking assistance as flood waters started to overtake the southern portion of the city.
“By noon, we had evacuated 342 residents,” Anderson said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Anderson said he considered the St. Marys event to be a flash flood. He noted the water levels rose quickly and dropped almost as quick, but not before coming close to the 1959 level.
“It was very short lived,” Anderson said. “It came up quickly and then it started to drop. Usually you see the river crest and it will come up and stay for a while. It came up and went right back down.”
As first responders and support staff worked to cover all the bases, Anderson said crews did encounter some difficulties. A major one had to do with making sure all residents were accounted for in areas that needed to be evacuated.
“Making sure every home was empty, are there any special-needs, those sort of things really came up because when we got impacted, it was all at once,” Anderson said. “We tried to get everything lined up because there are different programs available for different age groups. At that point, we were scrambling because we were caught up, and then all of a sudden, we were way behind. We were trying to get all those people logged in and trying to find locations to use as shelters. We evacuated into parking lots that we found were flooded.”
Arranging shelters also was a tough task. Since the flood, Anderson said officials have started the task of compiling primary and secondary shelter locations throughout the communities in Auglaize County.
“The original location was not clearly defined so we used a school system building and since then, that’s been one of the strong points we’ve addressed,” Anderson said. “Now that we have a strong American Red Cross in the county, that’s their primary function. They have come in and stepped up, and we are assisting them.”
After the waters receded and residents surveyed the widespread damage, Anderson said the next phase kicked in. Damage assessment teams combed the county to provide residents with assistance with clean-up and other issues from the flood.
“The state pushes us to do that right away because the clock is ticking for us to get assistance or a declaration,” Anderson said. “What we ran into was there were homes that were empty and the owners were in Florida and we were trying to make contact with them to let them know what was going on. Another of our biggest concerns was mold and other contaminants. We were making sure we had clean-up kits to give to residents to help sanitize.”
Anderson thanked the St. Marys and Wapakoneta Eagles Clubs for use of the disaster trailer, which held scores of kits. Those kits were passed out to residents for free.
“We had to make sure they understood the mold issues,” Anderson said.
Looking back, Anderson said he learned a lot from the incident. He also noted if another flood of that magnitude occurred, the county would be better prepared.
“We found out how much the public sectors — the schools and council on aging — could help with their buses,” Anderson said. “Those buses were very instrumental in evacuating a large number of people in a short amount of time. We have never done that before, and that’s something we’ve put into our plans. We also found out what kind of equipment other agencies have. There is a lot of specialized equipment out there and we finally got a real good understanding of what’s out there and I think that helped us.”
Anderson also recalled the rescue of more than 300 cats from Sue’s Animal Rescue Team (SART) during the flood.
“That was something our guys never practiced for or expected to be doing,” Anderson said. “It came in quick and we came across it and I was glad to see every agency was there helping out. We went in and did the same thing in saving those animals like we would for a human. It was nice to see the equipment and manpower come together to help each other out.”