Friday, September 17, Weirton, WV -- The day began just like any other day. By nightfall, many would consider themselves lucky to be alive. As the remnants of Hurricane IVAN began dumping rain on the Ohio Valley around 5:00 AM, IVAN seemed to gain strength and produced more rain than this little valley could handle. By noon, the nightmare began.
Around 12:00 PM, water from Harmon and Kings Creeks in Weirton had begun to rise out of its banks. City Fire Department personnel received numerous reports of residential flooding and requests for pumps.
By 2:00 PM the City of Weirton Volunteer Division and the River/Swift Water Rescue Team was put on stand-by under the command of Lieutenant Mike Mudrick. As heavy rain continued, reports of mudslides on US Route 22 began to pour in. Initial reports indicated that a school bus with children had been hit by the slide and occupants were trapped. First in units advised that there were no vehicles involved and no injuries but the East Bound lane of Route 22 was blocked by debris.
Main Street residents of Freedom Place 1 and 2 (an elderly residential complex) called and reported that the parking lot and first floor level had begun to take on water from nearby Harmon Creek. Engine 4 Lieutenant Jeff Bertha who responded to the Freedom Place complex, requested that both buildings be evacuated. Buses from the City of Weirton Transit Company were dispatched and evacuated residents to the Thomas E. Milsop Community Center. The Center was eventually turned into a staging area for displaced residents and a command post. By 3:00 PM numerous vehicles parked at the Freedom Place Complex were completely submerged by the water.
Weirton Engine 2 under the command of Lieutenant Jerry Shumate requested the River/Swift Water Rescue Team respond to the Culler Road/Country Club portion of the city to assist in evacuating trapped residents. The team arrived at around 3:20 PM and three residents were rescued before the team received a priority request to respond to the 12th Street/Kings Creek Road area. Several residents were trapped inside their homes. One family of three reported that their residence had partially collapsed and were in fear of being swept away from the current. Shumate and his crew stayed in the area of Country Club and assisted residents while they evacuated.
Weirton's River/Swift Water Rescue Team arrived in Kings Creek at 4:05 PM and were amazed at what they saw.
Many of the homes in the area and adjacent Green Tree Lane were under water. The creek which normally flows in a westerly direction had broke from its bank and was now flowing around 30 miles per hour towards occupied structures. Water rescue personnel began to survey the scene and formalize a rescue plan. The concern was that the current was too swift to make a head-on course to the trapped residents. Green Tree Lane appeared more calm and it was decided that the crew would attempt to rescue residents by boat insertion at Green Tree Lane and maneuver behind the homes on Kings Creek Road.
Lieutenant Mudrick and Firefighters Kevin Williams and Dan Masterantoni launched the boat and begun to float down Green Tree Lane. Due to a large amount of debris and outside obstacles, they could not get the boat behind the homes on Green Tree and cut a path to trapped residents on Kings Creek Road. The three crew members tied the boat off at the end of Green Tree and walked across the hillside towards the residence that had partially collapsed.
Engine 4 under the command of Lieutenant Ted Maslowski responded to a roadway directly above the residential collapse and attempted to throw a rope to the victims. This proved unsuccessful. The only way to rescue them was to do so by water. At one point, Williams and Masterantoni disappeared and could not be found. Mudrick believed that the current had swept them away and feared that they were dead. At 4:40 PM, City of Weirton Police Lieutenant Dave Popish who was "on-shore" had received a report that a dam in nearby Beaver County was about to fail. The dam spills into arteries of Kings Creek. It was believed that if the dam broke, emergency personnel would only have a few minutes to completely evacuate the area before being swept away. Due to heavy radio traffic, communication with the rescue crew was impossible. A PA system was used to relay the information to the crew but due to the extreme noise level, it could not be heard. Popish who's son is also a Weirton Police Officer called his son via cellular phone. Eric Popish is a resident of Green Tree Lane and was also stranded due to the flooding. Popish was able to find Mudrick and relay the information that his father had advised. At that time, Mudrick located five residents in a house and successfully rescued them taking them back to "shore".
Upon returning to "shore", Popish advised that there were two more elderly residents on Green Tree that no one had heard from. Mudrick and Firefighter Creston Kennedy responded by boat to the residence and made entry. An elderly man and his wide were found walking inside in nearly 4 feet of water. Both the man and his wife were removed from the residence and safely taken to "shore".
Mudrick then advised that two of his crew members were missing. Other rescue personnel at the scene advised that his crew (Williams and Masterantoni) had made it to Engine 4 and were safe. No other information regarding the dam was known at the time. Rescue personnel were then advised that more of the structure where the family of three were located had collapsed. It was believed that they only had a few more minutes before they would be swept away.
Weirton Resident Dave Krensavage came to the scene hauling a Sea-Doo Jet Ski. It was decided that this would be the only way to get to the trapped family. Mudrick advised that he would attempt the rescue using the ski. Upon launching the ski, a path was mapped out from Green Tree Lane. Mudrick was able to find a clear patch behind several houses and through a flooded field. While in-route to the trapped family, he observed two other residents of Kings Creek Road standing on the front porch of their home. He stopped and advised them that he would return as soon as he was able to get their neighbors to safety. They told him that they did not wish to leave. Even after Mudrick explained the severity of the situation, the refused to leave.
Mudrick continued to the trapped family of three and begun to rescue them one at a time. He was greeted by a man, his wife and adult daughter. The first of the three to be rescued was the man's wife. On the trip back to "shore", they encountered a yard trampoline and became stuck atop of it. Both Mudrick and the man's wife had to get off of the ski and move it back into the water. Once in the water Mudrick re-boarded the ski and assisted the wife back on. She was taken to "shore" without further incident.
He returned for the man's daughter and brought her back to shore unscaved. The water at that time had begun to move more rapidly. It was believed that the speed was around 35 to 40 miles per hour. Mudrick returned a third time and the man boarded the ski. Upon pulling away from the residence at full throttle, they found themselves inside of a swift stream and not moving. Mudrick decided that they needed to shift to neutral and drift with the current a short distance until they found another path. The two drifted for about 30 feet before finding another route. Although they were tossed about the swift current, Mudrick and the man returned to "shore" safely.
Lieutenant Popish was informed of the two residents who refused to leave. The rescue crew had only a few minutes to rehab when they were summoned to the area of Culler Road and Pleasant Valley Trailer Court. At 7:15 PM the responded.
Upon arriving in the area, Shumate advised that his crew was able to evacuate and rescue around 17 people and the rescue boat was not needed. At 7:45 PM, the crew was dispatched to the Cove Valley Estates area of the City. This area borders Kings Creek and is accessible from US Route 2, Kings Creek Road, 12th Street and Turkey Foot Road. US Route 2 at Kings Creek was impassable due to major flooding. 12th Street and Kings Creek Road was impassable due to major flooding.
The crew was able to access this area via Turkey Foot Road and stage at the Sun Valley Grocery Store. Rescue crews from the Oakland District VFD, City of Weirton Police Department's ERT and Chester VFD were already on scene. Chester VFD was attempting to rescue several residents via hover craft but experienced difficulty due to the swift current.
They were able to rescue five residents before conditions made it near impossible to run the craft or any other boat. One section of the estates could only have been accessed by taking a direct path via water craft through the creek.
It was decided that it was not safe to attempt a rescue through the creek. Sergeants Rick Sted, Bruce Marshall and Joel Shriner attempted to use a SWAT van to rescue residents by driving as far as possible through the water. At one point, the swift water rocked the vehicle from side to side. The plan was terminated for safety reasons.
Another attempt was made to reach victims by walking through back yards on foot. Mudrick, Williams and Lieutenants Bill Hoit, Dan Riddle and Tony Hardy began to walk towards victims when the current seemed to increase. Mudrick and Hoit were almost swept away in the current. Mudrick was able to regain his footing while Hoit clung to a tree. A rope was thrown to Hoit and he was pulled into safety.
Rescue personnel returned to staging to formalize a plan in which to rescue victims. At 9:55 PM, personnel were advised that Turkey Foot Road was showing signs that a major mudslide was about to occur. If it was to occur, personnel would become trapped in Sun Valley with no way to escape if the water continued to rise. Rescue crews decided to evacuate Sun Valley and Cove Valley Estates and return to Oakland District VFD's station and establish a rescue plan.
It was decided to attempt evacuation by air using a National Guard Helicopter. City of Weirton OES director Mark Lowe summoned the assistance of the National Guard at 10:30 PM. Preparations for helicopter evacuation was under way when at approximately 11:15 PM the rain quit. Within a 30 minutes, the water in Cove Valley began to recede and by 12:30 AM, residents were out of danger. The helicopter was cancelled.
At 01:30 AM Engine 408 on loan from International Steel Group of Weirton and under the command of Lieutenant Bob Hinchee successfully rescued a man who had been trapped atop his vehicle for several hours in the Kings Creek Area. Fire and rescue teams continued to work throughout the night making sure that residents were safe and removing water from structures.
We would like to thank Dave Krensavage for the use of his Jet-Ski. While the department does have in its fleet a Jet-Ski water craft, personnel were stretched all across the city. We were not able at the time to respond our ski to any area of the city. This average every day citizen came to the aid of his neighbors. Without his help, the family of three that were rescued may have met their demise.
A large number of city residents assisted with the rescue and evacuation of many victims. We were lucky to have no fatalities in this disaster.
Many residents became displaced due to the wrath of Ivan. Together, we prevailed showing a true community spirit of strength, commitment and assistance to our neighbors in this time of need.
Many areas of the city experienced major flooding and destruction.
We will clean up, we will rebuild, we will prevail and we will prepare for the next time. Let's pray that the next time, Mother Nature will be more forgiving!