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Emergency agencies prepare for flooding

September 18, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY and GREGORY T. SIMMONS

martinsburg@herald-mail.com
gregs@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - Local emergency agencies were preparing on Friday for what could be hazardous flooding conditions in some areas in the Tri-State area over the weekend.

Estimates for rainfall resulting from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan were less than expected earlier in the week, but the Potomac River at Paw Paw, W.Va., was expected to rise above flood stage Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. River levels in Hancock were predicted to be only 1 foot below flood stage Sunday.

Rangers at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park are keeping an eye on the gauge marking the level of the Potomac River and have a plan in mind in case the storm threatens to flood Lower Town, a park spokeswoman said Friday.

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Marsha Wassel said park officials also are in constant contact with the National Weather Service.

"We're not in the evacuation mode, but we're in the watch-and-wait-and-see mode," Wassel said.

In the past when flooding is predicted, historic artifacts in Lower Town have been moved to higher ground.

"We are planning for the inevitable if it happens," Wassel said.

That planning includes having tractor-trailers ready to haul out items, if needed. Tool kits are at hand, along with charged batteries, Wassel said.

"We've done this before, and hopefully we don't have to do it again," she said.

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise issued a state of emergency for all 55 counties because of projected heavy rainfall, high winds and possible flooding. Wise also activated National Guard troops.

In Berkeley County, W.Va., rescue boats are being readied in case river, stream or urban flooding endangers lives, said Stephen Allen, director of the county's Office of Emergency Services.

Some homes along the Potomac River are at risk of flood damage, and several roads in Martinsburg and throughout the county often flood during heavy rains. Flooding can be especially dangerous at night because seeing the water is difficult, Allen said.

"Normally, we have water rescues where people are trying to drive through" high water, Allen said.

Allen said he was making sure staff would be available around the clock if needed: "I'll be here 'til we get some clear skies."

Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said his department has been watching weather reports and has gathered a few water pumps in the case of flooding inside homes.

"We've been having our wheels turning for the last month preparing for some of these" storms, Hawbaker said.

Local roads officials said they have been making regular checks to be sure storm drains are clear, and will be watching for flooding.

Homeowners in Berkeley County likely will have to fend for themselves to pump water from flooded basements, Allen said. Firefighters will declare homes safe from electric hazards, but he said there might be only two or three pumps in the county to assist in flooded homes.

Michele Sanders, Franklin County Department of Emergency Services training coordinator, said Friday that the latest weather reports weren't showing much rain in the forecast for her area, but state emergency officials will be on call.

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