There are events that occur in our lives that are indelibly etched in our mind. The retrieval process begins with – “I remember where I was when …..”
One of those moments for residents of New Boston is the flood of 1997, which left a path of devastation. March 1 and 2 marks the 20th anniversary of the water that threatened to wash the village away with around 12 inches of rain over two days.
“My daughter Amanda and I woke up early that rainy Saturday morning to travel to Ashland, Ohio for a college recruiting visit,” now New Boston Mayor Junior Williams said, picturing the moment as if it was yesterday. “As we left, the rain began coming down harder and harder. It was difficult to see the drive and we decided to turn around in Lucasville and return home.”
Williams and his daughter were curious as to how high the creek water levels might be around the ballpark and lake bottom area, so they traveled down Valley Street in North Moreland to get to that area.
“We came to the corporation line at Valley Street and Lakeview Avenue and hit a wall of water in the street and it essentially swallowed our new Ford Mustang and disabled the car,” Williams said. “We immediately exited the vehicle and to our surprise, water was rushing into the car and luckily we were able to escape into waters well above our waistlines.”
Steve Hamilton, who is now the village administrator, is always referring to the New Boston community as “we.” Hamilton said it wasn’t just the service department, the police and fire personnel who responded to the disaster, but it was neighbors helping neighbors.
“In the pouring rain, some good neighbors in the area pushed and shoved our car up under a carport for safety,” Williams said. “In the heavy rain, Amanda and I treaded in flood waters up to our chest in some places down Lakeview Avenue, past the New Boston pool and to our home on Rhodes Avenue.”
As it turned out, Williams got a call later that his new Mustang was now one of several vehicles that were piled on top of each other at the pool. It seemed the high waters backed the car out of the carport and proceeded to steer the vehicle down Lakeview Avenue to the pool area.
Not far away, Hamilton, then an employee of a telecommunications company, received a call that he says jarred him into reality.
“I lived right down here on Stanton Avenue and my grandmother lived right behind me,” Hamilton said. “She called me and said – ‘Steve, you’d better get out there and get your dog. It’s just barely staying above water.’ I went out the back door and looked and there was my poor Boston terrier on a chain, swimming and barely with his head above water and when I jumped off the porch it was up to my thighs.”
Hamilton looked and as far as his eye could see – nothing but water. He didn’t know that in the Millbrook Park area it was much worse, but he couldn’t get there because he was stranded in his house, with his Boston terrier of course.
Eighteen counties were declared federal and state disaster areas and cost estimates of damage in Ohio from the flooding were $180 million. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) figures, 2,331 applications were filed in Scioto County, 1,203 checks were written, totaling $2,275,283. Some of the flooding in the region resulted in tragic consequences in Ohio. Five deaths were attributed to the flooding in surrounding counties.
“When you get that much water, a lot of the area, up by the old Millbrook Lake, and we have tubes up there and those tubes got stopped up with debris and everything backflowed,” Hamilton said. “When you’ve got all that debris coming from all those tributaries all the way out from Divide Hill to the top of Milldale (Road), to the top of Shearer’s Hollow, and the top of Rosemount Hill, the rain comes down and goes directly into Munn’s Run. All the trees, the trash, the brush, appliances, they all came right to those tubes.”
Hamilton said he has learned from archives that village personnel had all 18 pumps working around the clock, and on Sunday morning, March 2, while they were pumping the water out of the village, the rains kept coming.
“Then they had to go into rescue mode with the fire department taking a fire truck out,” Hamilton said. “People bringing in boats to help out to rescue people off roofs.”
Many members of the community turned out. Even children were pressed into action to fill sandbags.
“It just amazes me when something like this happens,” Hamilton said. “Everybody can have their differences, but when a disaster happens, it pulled these people in this village close together. People helping their neighbors get their stuff out, helping each other clean their houses after the flood waters left, that’s one thing that I’m so proud of, being from New Boston, yes, everybody had their differences, but when somebody needs you, the people in this village all come together.”
What started in 1997 is still a daily practice by Hamilton. He watches the weather daily.
Hamilton said he is concerned because there has not been enough freezing of the ground this winter and that could spell trouble if spring rains begin to descend upon the village of New Boston.
“You listen to the news. You get on NOAA. You watch the weather forecast, especially when you’re a river town,” Hamilton said. “You’ve always got to be on top of that because if you’re a river town and they tell you you’re going to get 3-4 inches of rain, here in the village, we know that some of our storm sewers that haven’t been changed over to the new, is going to fill up and it’s going to flood the streets.”
Hamilton said then-Village Administrator Mick Sturgill was one of the people who led the response effort in the village.
“He (Sturgill) did a wonderful job of getting these contractors in here and Mayor (Jim) Warren was here, with them calling the National Guard or EMA, they took the bull by its horns,” Hamilton said. “The water was coming but everybody in this village was fighting back.”
Williams is, like Hamilton, complimentary of the people of New Boston, a place that has picked itself up by its bootstraps since the steel industry shut down completely in 1980.
“It was a difficult time, but I was very pleased and proud of our entire community and all the volunteers that helped so many people that dreadful day, as well as, the many months of cleanup that followed,” Williams said. “Twenty years later, a huge ‘thank you’ goes out to the many, too many to mention, people that assisted all of those that needed emergency assistance in so many ways.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-370-0711