News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 20, 2013

Authorities report numerous rescues of stranded motorists

Communities keeping watchful eye out as river continues to rise

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

MECCA — Water, water everywhere. And not a drop that anyone should try to drive through.

Rescues of motorists stranded by high water has kept area emergency responders busy since early Thursday, while some communities are keeping an eye on the Wabash River and nearby creeks that have overflowed their banks.

At the Mecca Tavern in Parke County, water from the Little Raccoon Creek had crept across and closed the county road, and the rushing water was within a few feet of the local watering hole’s foundation.

“We’re watching it,” said Becca Griffin, second lieutenant at the Mecca-Wabash Township Fire Department. “If we have to sandbag, we will have a load of sand brought in and dumped by the tavern and fill the sandbags there.”

But, she said she didn’t think sandbagging was likely. The last time the creek water rose high enough to flood buildings was in 2005, she said.

Far across the floodplain near the 1973 Mecca covered bridge, however, area residents were keeping an eye on the rising water.

Montezuma residents Paul Bartlow and wife Diana were out checking the county road conditions leading to the area known as Rabbit Town. Paul, who drives a school bus for the Southwest Parke Community School Corp., said he was concerned because he had picked up two children in the area during a morning route, but the water had risen too high for him to take them home.

By 3:20 p.m., however, Bartlow had gotten the children back to their family.

“We had a couple of other situations like that near Bridgeton,” Superintendent Leonard Orr told the Tribune-Star. “We made other arrangements to drop kids off at a relative’s home or maybe a grandparent. But we got them all home.”

Along the eastern bank of the Wabash River, the crowd at the Montezuma Fish and Game Club said they weren’t concerned about the rising water … yet.

“I don’t think we have anything to worry about,” said Tom Newlin, who expressed more concern about his fishing nets. “When the water reaches about 30 feet here, then we start sandbagging.”

The water level around noon was at about 24 feet at Montezuma, according to the measuring post at the public access site maintained by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

In 2005, flood water came into the Fish and Game Club, Newlin said, so they built a flood wall that will handle water up to 32 feet. Most of the town sits higher away from the river, but, some farmland north of town went underwater when the water rose above 24 feet.

In Vigo County, the Sugar Creek Fire Department sent its water rescue team to assist two stranded motorists due to the rising water.

The first run was an assist for the Riley Fire Department. Shortly after 3 a.m., the water rescue team was called to Eastwind Drive about 3 miles south of Riley for a vehicle stalled in high water. Two adults and a dog were rescued for their vehicle, which stalled in three feet of water.

At about 1 p.m., the Sugar Creek team went to First Street near Ryman Drive where one person was trapped in a flooded vehicle. Battalion Chief Matt Pape said that while motorists will be taken to safety, their vehicles will be left where they stall until the flood waters recede.

“Some people aren’t paying attention, and they think they’re better than the last person who turned around. So, they drive in and their car stalls, and they’re stuck,” Pape said. People who do get stranded should use a cell phone to call for help, or flag down other motorists to call for help. No one should enter the water to assist, since swift moving water can knock down a person and cause additional danger.

DNR Conservation Officer Jet Quillen reported several motorist rescues during the past 24 hours, and said there were likely others he hadn’t heard of as of early afternoon Friday.

Conservation officers assisted with 2 rescues in Greene, 3 in Putnam, 4 in Owen, and 6 in Morgan counties.

In one case in Putnam County, a conservation officer went into the rising water to assist two Cloverdale residents who were trapped on the roof of their vehicle with the water rising quickly.

At about 3:30 a.m., Chris Springstun, a 4-year veteran of the DNR assigned to Putnam County, was dispatched to a vehicle stalled in the water from Deer Creek which had surpassed its banks and was quickly rising above Jackie Dunn Road near Reelsville. By the time Springstun arrived at the scene, the water had nearly reached the roof of the vehicle, and he reported that completing a boat based rescue was not possible due to the vehicle location and water conditions. As a member of the Indiana Conservation Officers dive team, he quickly donned his dry suit, swift water vest and grabbed a rope bag. With the assistance of a Putnam County deputy, they were able to reach an area where Springstun was able to secure one end of the rope to a tree. He then entered the water and was able to swim to the vehicle and secure the other end of the rope to the vehicle’s trunk, creating a static line that Springstun used to remove both subjects from the water and back to safety.

Upon completion of that rescue, Springstun then learned that a volunteer firefighters truck was washed off the road while responding to the scene. Springstun and other first responders located the truck that had been pushed over on its side from the force of the fast moving water. They were able to launch a boat and reach the driver, who was transported back to dry ground.

The Reelsville area of Putnam County, which is just east of Clay County along U.S. 40, has seen historic flooding due to the Thursday rainfall.

Reelsville-Washington Township Fire spokesman John McPherson said the department handled 10 water rescues, including four evacuations of residents from their homes along Big Walnut Creek.

As of 4 p.m. Friday, McPherson reported that the creek had not yet crested, and it was above 17 feet. Flood stage in that area is 12 feet.

If the water continues to rise, he warned, U.S. 40 could be closed. The four-lane highway was already closed several miles east in Hendricks County at Stilesville, where Mill Creek was flooding the area.

The lowlands south of Interstate 70 in Putnam County were also flooded, with several local roads closed.

Big Walnut Creek flows south and joins Deer Creek to become the Eel River, which flows south through Clay County. McPherson predicted that the communities of Bowling Green and Clay City would see more flooding on Saturday.

As of 3 p.m. Friday, the Wabash River at Terre Haute had reached 21.46 feet. Flood stage is 14 feet. And moderate flooding occurs at 22 feet.

In Vigo County, deputy director J.D. Kesler of the county’s Emergency Management Agency said no sandbagging had begun as of Friday afternoon. Several county roads had been closed by the county highway department, and he warned motorists not to drive around barricades and risk getting stranded in flood water.

To get updates on local weather conditions, issued by the National Weather Service at Indianapolis, go to

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.