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Storm damage assessment continues

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Those with damage need to report it to city

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Three days after what many are describing as the worst storm they’ve ever witnessed in Vandalia, city officials are continuing to gather information that they hope will be sufficient to warrant financial aid from the state.

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Vandalia’s public works employees are continuing to pick up debris from the Sunday evening storm, which brought high winds and more than 6 inches of rain in less than two hours, and Public Works Director John Moyer estimated on Monday that the cleanup could take up to a week.

The storm hit shortly before 7 p.m., and reports of damage began coming in shortly thereafter.

The Vandalia Volunteer Fire Department was asked to respond to a fire alarm at a nursing home, and they quickly learned that it was a false alarm. Within 10 minutes or so, the department was told to respond to a fire from a downed power line in the 1000 block of North Sixth Street.

A short time later, while one crew of firefighters was still at that location, they were summoned for an electrical problem at a residence in the 1300 block of North Seventh Street.

The heavy amount of rain quickly caused substantial flooding on city streets, and within an hour, firefighters were sent to the area of the city garage in the 900 block of West Randolph Street to rescue individuals in a vehicle that had been washed off of the roadway.

That pickup truck was pulled out of the water with firefighter Brian Westendorf’s pickup truck.

At that point, about 20 firefighters were asked to assist Moyer in setting up barricades and cones on flooded streets throughout town. Those efforts continued until about 9 p.m.

“I have never seen so much water in such a short period of time,” Adermann said during a meeting at city hall on Tuesday.

A number of streets, particularly those in the area west of the city garage, and Ruemmelin and Vandalia City Park, remained under water through early Monday.

Moyer learned by mid-morning on Monday that the flood waters in that area of town were not subsiding because a culvert measuring 10-foot in diameter had become inoperable.

That culvert, located just west of Culbertson Heating & Cooling under the abandoned rail line at Randolph Street, had been bent by the flood waters, with a large section of it sticking up in the air.

Early Monday morning, Mayor Rick Gottman assembled a team that would begin assessing the damage and compiling information that would be used to file a request from the state for funding that could assist the city and residents with cleanup and replacement of damaged property.

That team included: Moyer; Merle Adermann, VVFD chief and the city’s Emergency Management Agency coordinator; Keith Meadows, city code official and VVFD assistant fire chief; Marty Huskey, water plant superintendent; Larry Eason, police chief; Mark Miller, president of the Vandalia Park District Board of Trustees; and Steve Koehler, Fayette County Emergency Management Agency coordinator.

Koehler pulled together forms that the city will file in making a request for funding assistance, and informed the city’s storm assessment team of the steps required to apply for that funding.

“We need to include every single thing that we can prove,” Koehler told the team.

For the city, the damage includes two police squad cars that were parked at the city garage at the time of the storm. A 2001 Ford and 2008 Chevrolet were almost completely submerged under floodwaters.

Moyer said the city garage had taken in about 18 inches of water, causing some replacement parts to be destroyed.

Flooding in that area also caused substantial damage at Donaldson’s Carpet. That business, which had moved into a building east of the city garage after its building was destroyed by fire at the end of February, had sustained an estimated $40,000 in damage from flooding, Adermann reported on Tuesday.

He also reported that Walt Barenfanger, owner of the former Crane Packing building adjacent to Ruemmelin Park, told him that flooding has caused an estimated $15,000 damage to that structure.

Miller said at least one terminal at Vandalia Airport has sustained damage from flooding, though there was no damage estimate made yet.

Huskey said that as a result of the storm, the city’s water distribution pumps at Vandalia Lake lost power and that the distribution booster system was out on Sunday night. “And the (levels of the water) towers were going down,” he said.

Gottman said that as part of the storm assessment, the city was having an engineer inspect five city bridges in areas of heavy flooding, including two bridges near Fifth and Randolph streets and one near Sixth and Madison streets that already had deterioration issues.

While the employees of City Clerk Peggy Bowen were taking reports of personal property damage, Adermann and Meadows were checking with owners of property within previously flooded areas to gather damage estimates.

The storm assessment team met mid-afternoon on Monday to pull together for the preliminary report that Koehler needed to get to state officials by the end of the day.

On Tuesday morning, Gottman, Adermann, Meadows and Eason met with state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) to garner his support for state assistance.

During that meeting, Adermann estimated that the city had already received reports of damage to as many as 50 residences, and he guessed that a final report could include as many as 100 homes.

Gottman and Koehler stressed that the city needs to have a complete assessment of the damage, and needs that information as soon as possible.

“We need to tell people, ‘If you’ve got damage, come see us,’” Koehler said at Monday morning’s meeting.

The city clerk’s office is taking damage reports at the phone, or property owners can fill out damage assessment forms at city hall.

Gottman, Adermann and Meadows took McCarter on a tour of the areas that sustained the most flooding, letting him see the types of damage for which the city will seek state assistance.

McCarter pledged to do what he can to help the city and its residents.

“That’s something that myself and myself will need to do, researching all of the avenues that people may have (to get assistance),” McCarter said.

He also said that as the city files reports and requests for assistance, he and his staff “will follow it through the process, to make sure that it’s moving along and going through the proper channels.”