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County awaits torrent of flood calls

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Floodwater has receded and Christmas is over, and now the county expects to get more calls from home and business owners reporting damage from high water.

Only one person had called Johnson County Emergency Management as of Thursday morning to report flood damage, but director Stephanie Sichting expects to hear from more residents who had flooded basements or their vehicles or other items were damaged when water got into homes, garages or sheds.

Some of those reports of damage likely will come from property owners in southern parts of the county after water drained from the north into rivers and creeks around Edinburgh, but most residents in the area didn’t have any problems with high water, Sichting said.

Four or five homes near the Big Blue River were damaged by flooding, which isn’t uncommon during large storms because they’re so close to the river, Edinburgh Fire Chief Allen Smith said. Homes and streets inside the town weren’t flooded, he said.

After declaring a local disaster, county officials need to focus on assessing any flood damage, which could help the county and residents receive federal disaster money in the future, Sichting said.

“We have to do these damage assessments. That’s why we want people to call, for people with basements and stuff we can’t see from the outside,” she said.

If several counties report damage from flooding, the state could declare a disaster due to the flooding. That declaration could then lead to federal disaster money, which could reimburse emergency workers for overtime worked during the flood and help residents or business owners pay for repairs, she said.

The American Red Cross has assisted families in several counties that were flooded since the weekend but did not have any requests for aid from Johnson County, spokeswoman Ann Gregson said.

The county decided to declare the local emergency earlier this week because of the amount of work that police, firefighters and highway department workers had to put in because of the flooding.

More than 80 roads were closed by high water, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to about 40 calls from drivers who were stranded in water, and firefighters made multiple water rescues after drivers stalled in fast-moving water. The county also had implemented travel restrictions on Saturday night, urging drivers not to leave home unless necessary because of the flooding.

High water made some rural roads impassable, forcing residents to detour several miles just to get to their houses. Saturday night the water rose high enough that Ann Wesseler and her husband, Thomas Vernon, stayed in a motel rather than try to get through Mauxferry Road, which had flooded north of Buckhart Creek.

Water flows onto the road frequently near their neighborhood but usually not bad enough that they can’t get to their home, she said.

They were able to come home the next morning by coming from the opposite end of Mauxferry Road to get to their house on Buckhart Creek Road. The detour took them seven miles out of their way, she said.

The water had receded by noon Sunday, and most of the debris, including cornstalks from nearby fields, had been cleared by that evening, Ann Wesseler said.

Though the water level fell quickly, emergency vehicles would have had a hard time reaching the neighborhood if something had happened, she said. The water had spread farther north than in the 2008 flood, she said.

Leigh Ann Johnson, who has lived on Buckhart Creek Road for seven years, has seen the water rise frequently due to rain or melting snow. But the water usually stays low enough that cars still can drive through it, she said.

The county rebuilt the bridge on Mauxferry Road over Buckhart Creek this fall, and the bridge reopened Dec. 2. The project replaced the road surface of the bridge but did not include any changes to the supports or changes to drainage that would have created more or less flooding in the area, highway department director Luke Mastin said.

Wesseler and Johnson did not have damage to their homes.

Daily Journal staff writer Elizabeth Pearl contributed to this report.

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