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November 2, 2013

Evacuated: Leaking roof forces 96 Clinton residents out of apartments during heavy rain

CLINTON — For some Clinton residents, Thursday’s steady rain resulted in a leaky roof and an evacuation of the Chateau Apartments on the city’s near south side.

But as autumn sunshine started to dry out the Vermillion County community on Friday, most Chateau occupants were able to return to their apartments, and a construction crew resumed work to replace roofing that had allowed rainwater to seep into third floor ceilings and cause electrical problems in the apartment building.

“It was a roof leak. There was no collapse,” property manager Jenica Yocum told the Tribune-Star on Friday morning.

Stacks of new roofing materials could be seen on the property, and a work crew was on the job in the wake of Thursday evening’s reported problems that caused 96 people to be evacuated to temporary quarters.

“It was a safety precaution because water got into the electrical,” Yocum said of the evacuation, noting that only 5 to 10 apartments were affected by water infiltration. When asked how many residents could return to their homes Friday, she replied, “The majority will.”

Clinton Police Chief Perry Hollowell said the call for help initially came in as a roof collapse at the Chateau, and that was a much scarier scenario than what had actually occurred.

“When I got there with Mayor Jack Gilfoy, we were expecting to look up and see the night sky and stars,” Hollowell said. “But when we got in there and looked up, we saw that it wasn’t the case. It wasn’t a structural problem.”

In places where the ceiling had gotten saturated by rainwater, chunks and pieces of the ceiling had collapsed to the floor, he said.

“At first, it sounded a lot worse than it was,” Hollowell said. “Our biggest concern was that water and electricity don’t mix well together.”

He commended the Chateau property manager and staff for having an emergency plan of action that they used to safely evacuate the residents and house them elsewhere.

Some residents were taken to the apostolic church next door to wait out during the continuous rainfall. Still others were soon picked up by relatives or friends who agreed to take them in during the crisis.

Hollowell said that arrangements were made for 25 rooms reserved at the Renatto Inn, and another 75 rooms reserved at a Terre Haute hotel.

Earlier on Thursday, city officials had learned that rain was seeping into the Chateau where some roof work was occurring, he said. It appears that the roofers put down felt paper in an attempt to keep the rain out, but that didn’t handle the heavy rainfall that continued into the night.

The evacuation of the residents went well, the police chief said. Local emergency services teams have trained together for such scenarios, and they worked well on the dark and stormy Thursday night.

“There was no bickering, and that was kind of unusual,” he said of the tension that sometimes comes with high-stress scenarios.

The disabilities of some of the residents made it more challenging to move some people, Hollowell said.

“It went pretty well. We had a few who didn’t want to leave, of course,” he said. “The biggest problem was the people who left and didn’t tell us. Some of them had their own cars, so they just left, and when others got to the motels, they had family waiting on them to take them home so they left without telling us.”

As a precaution, a few residents were transferred to the local West Central Community Hospital due to pre-existing medical conditions. No one was injured by the falling ceilings or the evacuation, he said.

The South Vermillion School Corporation sent school buses to the scene to transfer people to their temporary quarters. The American Red Cross also assisted in the transitions, and the Hillcrest Community Center opened its doors to accept anyone who needed a place to wait for the night.

The husband and wife team of Jim and Linda Snider returned to Hillcrest on Friday morning to prepare for the upcoming community Thanksgiving meal.

Any time the Red Cross needs an emergency shelter in Clinton, Jim Snider said, the community center is ready to open. It turns out that their services were not needed Thursday night, but when Red Cross organizer Freida Rutan contacted them to be prepared, the doors of Hillcrest were open to anyone needing shelter.

“We’re glad we’re able to do this,” he said.

Back at the Renatto Inn, the temporary move couldn’t end soon enough for Terry Burrus, who spent Thursday night at the hotel along Indiana 63 just west of Clinton.

“I thought it was just a fire drill,” Burrus said of how he learned about the building problems late Thursday. A first-floor resident of the Chateau for the past eight months, Burrus said he was able to grab some personal items and medication to take to the hotel.

“Personally, it was pretty organized,” he said of the evacuation and the sheltering of the residents. “I felt sorry for some of the folks who were in wheelchairs and needed help.”

 Among others waiting Thursday morning at the Chateau were Lela Wilson, Candy Gurney and Charles Fisher.

Wilson said she lives on the first floor, and she was unaware of the building problems until the evacuation.

“They gave us five minutes to go in and get clothing and stuff like that,” she said.

Gurney said she was worried about the food that was left in her refrigerator since the power to the building was shut off due to the electrical concerns.

Fisher said he has resided at the Chateau for two separate periods, this last time being almost 10 years. He said it is a concern to him that people in wheelchairs reside on the third floor, because they could have difficulty getting out of the building in an emergency. Fortunately on Thursday evening, assistance came from policemen and firefighters.

Property Manager Yocum said the damage to the apartments was contained to units on the third floor in the east end of building. Once the electricity was shut off, the entire facility had to be evacuated.

As of 4 p.m. Friday, assistant property manager Angel Martin said that all residents of the first and second floors had returned to their apartments, and almost everyone on the third floor had returned.

Martin said that Chateau will cover the hotel costs for its residents and there will be no out-of-pocket expenses for them because of the evacuation.

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

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