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Rainfall deluges county

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Rain that began falling Wednesday evening should stop pouring by noon today — but the unusually heavy rainstorm already brought road flooding and a fire caused by a possible lightning strike.

Motorists on Interstate 65 were creeping slowly past a flooded lane on the southside Thursday, and a Center Grove area home sustained about $50,000 in damage after catching fire in what officials believe was likely a lightning strike.

Rain began falling Wednesday night, and by Thursday workers in Johnson County were checking creeks for high water and street drains for clogging. At least four roads were closed in the county, and Franklin street crews put up signs on South Street and Simon Road warning motorists to slow down due to water on the streets.

Flooding was reported on sections of I-65 under construction, but that was due to drains that needed to be cleaned, and the water subsided once the drains were clear, state highway department spokesman Harry Maginity said. But he warned drivers that in rainy conditions, their cars can hydroplane even on slick streets that don’t have standing water, he said.

In Greenwood and Franklin, street crews were driving the roads checking the drains for sticks, leaves and trash that could clog them and prevent rainwater from running off the streets properly. Greenwood’s 22 street department workers checked all of the city’s streets, and backtracked later in the day to check again for flooding or plugged drains on main roads and in neighborhoods, Greenwood department superintendent Greg Owens said.

Stephanie Sichting, director of Johnson County Emergency Management, was driving along streams and creeks, including Youngs Creek and Big Blue River, to keep an eye on the water level. Young’s Creek went up about 12 inches within two hours, and she said it would possibly spill over its banks with more rainfall, she said.

A wet winter has left the ground saturated, so drainage ditches and storm drains were filling to capacity because the ground couldn’t absorb much more water, Franklin street department director of operations Andy Duckworth said.

Storms such as this that rapidly pour 2 inches or more of rain aren’t common in the county, and happen maybe twice in a spring and summer, National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Skowronek said.

More than 2 inches of rain on average had fallen in Johnson County as of Thursday afternoon, and no more than 3 inches was expected total, Skowronek said. The continuing rainfall, depending on the location of thunderstorms, could be heavier in some parts of the county than others, he said.

Beyond what had already been done, not much can be done to prevent flooding, Owens said.

“You’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. If it comes down in buckets, you just hope it stops,” he said.

Rainwater from the storm forced a Jeep off I-65 near the Southport Road exit Thursday morning and caused another driver to abandon a truck, which the state police towed.

The driver of the Jeep was able to regain control and drive on, a state police spokesman said.

Residents shouldn’t drive on roads with water on them and should turn around and find another route, Sichting said. Drivers should be particularly cautious at night because they won’t be able to see the water until they get to it, and can’t see how deep it is in the dark, she said. They also can’t know how fast the current is, and it’s possible the water could carry their vehicle away, she said.

The storm also likely caused a house fire in The Trails at Woodfield subdivision near Greenwood.

The one-story home caught fire about 7 a.m. after hours of rainfall and lightning flashes, White River Fire Department spokesman Dale Saucier said. Due to the way the siding burned on one side of the house, fire investigators expect to find that the cause was lightning, he said.

No one was injured, and the neighboring houses were undamaged, he said. Lightning strikes can cause power surges in other homes, which in this case burned out some lightbulbs in a nearby house, he said.

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