By Anna Merriman and Steve Fogarty
With the parking lot, wood-working studio and classrooms already submerged, it was up to North Ridgeville High School head custodian Roger Fleming and a team of workers to pump water out of the building windows through the night.
Just a few blocks away, Fleming’s counterpart at North Ridgeville Middle School, Steve Esber, had an equally arduous task — removing water from one section of the building while more of it flowed in from the flooded parking lot at the middle school’s other end.
“(We) had to switch to the other side of the building when water began running back in (the windows) from the parking lot,” Esber said of rooms in the school’s lower level, which sit several feet below ground level.
The flooding Monday night caused the North Ridgeville school district to close Tuesday. Fleming said 2½ to 3 feet of water flooded parts of the high school.
Custodial crews began working at 9:30 p.m. Monday and worked through the night to pump out water from the buildings.
The teachers’ parking lot near the industrial arts and drafting rooms in the high school was submerged Monday night, but the water had receded by mid-morning Tuesday.
Cleaning personnel were using bleach to disinfect work tables, chairs, cabinets and other items.
“It’s tedious work, but they pay attention to detail,” Fleming said, adding that classrooms were his priority in the cleanup.
Industrial vacuums and sump pumps were doing their part to get rid of what was at its worst, an estimated 18 inches of water inside his school, according to Esber.
“I’ve got 1,100 of these kids, and they depend on me,” Esber said, determined to have the middle school building ready for classes today.
A concert at the middle school Monday night was interrupted twice by the storm and tornado warnings before being stopped.
“We were 15 to 20 minutes into the concert, and we had to be evacuated twice,” Assistant Principal Lee Armbruster said.
Greene said officials are ready to open the high school and other buildings today but cleaning crews and custodial personnel are still working to get the middle school cleared of water and the cafeteria properly disinfected.
“The water has been slow in receding, and we’re worried about this next rain we’re supposed to get,” Greene said late Tuesday afternoon.
North Ridgeville was one of many cities in Lorain County hit by the storm Monday evening that flooded city buildings, displaced people from their homes and destroyed belongings.
On Tuesday, the Lorain County Office of Emergency Management & Homeland Security Team surveyed damage in areas that were most affected — including Elyria, Lorain, Sheffield Township and Columbia Station, according to Doug Dever, public information officer for county EMA.
“This was a monumental event … the worst water we’ve ever had,” North Ridgeville Fire Chief John Reese said Tuesday of the storm that dumped an estimated four inches of rain on some areas of North Ridgeville. “Unfortunately, there’s nothing the city, the county or the state can do to make places not flood when you have four inches of rain in an hour.”
Vermilion Mayor Eileen Bulan said her city, which is prone to flooding because of its proximity to Lake Erie, found that the water eroded parts of Riverside Drive and flooded roads closer to the lake.
“There’s nothing we can do until the water recedes,” Bulan said Tuesday, adding that street crews were answering residents’ complaints through the day.
After assessing the damage and debris left Tuesday in the streets of Lorain, Mayor Chase Ritenauer said he called the office of Gov. John Kasich and requested that Lorain County be declared a disaster area to open the possibility for state and federal funding.
A spokesperson for Ohio EMA said that after conducting an assessment of the flooding damage, the department decided not to declare the county a disaster zone.
However Ritenauer, who said he has seen flooding in Lorain before, doesn’t remember anything as extreme as Monday’s storm.
Similar to North Ridgeville, flooding in Lorain left many stranded. Lorain police put their new armored car to use on Monday evening, tackling five feet of water on Tower Boulevard to check for people stuck in their cars, many of which were partially submerged in water.
“This was a different level,” Ritenauer said.
Lorain Safety Service Director Robert Fowler, who spent the morning traveling around the city assessing damage, said the storm drain system in Lorain was inundated with too much rain.
“There was no practical way to establish the system to handle this volume (of water),” he said, adding that city workers were still removing cars from Tower Boulevard on Tuesday morning.
Many Lorain County residents who didn’t travel on Monday night still found they weren’t immune to the flooding in their own homes.
Peggy Montgomery and her family have lived in their attractive Mill Creek Lane home in North Ridgeville for 20 years and they’ve seen their share of street flooding from heavy rains.
“It’s come up in the driveway, but we’ve never seen it like this,” Montgomery said Tuesday about noon as she cleaned out the family’s two cars that had rainwater rise high enough to reach inside the vehicles.
Montgomery’s family and two pet cats were temporarily taken from their home by firefighters in rescue boats as rainwater overflowed Mill Creek, causing significant damage to a number of condominiums across the street.
The family saw about a foot of water get inside their home, which is built on a slab.
“It just raised the carpet right up,” Montgomery said.
The family is staying at a hotel until their home can be cleaned.
They were among 15 to 20 people rescued by boat Monday night and early Tuesday morning in North Ridgeville, including several from the Cornerstone Commons condo development across the street.
North Ridgeville firefighters were assisted by those from Elyria, Avon and Sheffield, whose departments provided rescue boats. Fire and police crews made use of one of two school buses to transport people and pets from their homes where needed.
“This is a totally new experience, and one I could have lived without,” Montgomery said.
Other residents, especially in Lorain, didn’t get the opportunity to move before the water flooded their homes with them inside.
April and Kenric Garrison, a deaf couple who live along Windsor Court in Lorain, weren’t able to get out of their home or even move many of their belongings before the water came and took away one of their main modes of communication — the cable which they use to make video phone calls.
“If we could hear, we probably would have left,” Kenric Garrison said.
Instead, the couple watched as the water rose around their legs and floated items inside their garage. They spent the night in mud boots attempting to salvage their belongings. By the time the water was gone Tuesday morning, their house was muddy, their belongings destroyed and their five cars, which had all been flooded, were all unusable.
For Fowler, who said the area near Martin’s Run Creek in Lorain saw some of the worst flooding, the storm at least gave city officials a chance to see what areas are prone to the most damage in a severe storm.
“It helps us prioritize,” he said, adding that the flooding allows the city to determine where construction can improve the overall drainage system. “Now we have a little bit of data.”