Worst flood in 65+ years interrupts honeymoon

Jasper County flooding_176224

RENSSELAER, Ind. (WLFI) – It’s the worst flooding in Jasper County since at least the 1940s when the National Weather Service started keeping track. While it inched down just a bit Thursday afternoon, the flood broke a new record Thursday evening.

U.S. 231 is still shut down north of Rensselaer where there was a strong current of the Iroquois River crossing the asphalt.

Levels continue to rise at the Riverside Terrace mobile home park and at the Washington Street Bridge where the concrete pillar is just visible in the rushing waters. Wednesday, it had a couple of inches more visible.

But amid the rain around town, there’s another sound as sandbag after sandbag moves from arm to arm providing about the only protection for dozens of homes.

“I was on my honeymoon,” said Rensselaer resident Genny Hickman. “I had to come back early to save my home.”

Hickman got married Saturday.

“We were supposed to come back [Friday] morning,” she said. “But you know, it’s all good. The house is saved, that’s the only thing that’s important.”

The four-foot crawl space under her home was down to four inches earlier. With six pumps going, there was at one point up to 11 inches of breathing room. But with more rain Thursday afternoon, it’s back down to eight inches.

She hopes extra sandbags will keep her dry.

“Yes, I am,” Hickman says. “But have faith, pray. Everything will be alright.”

Around the corner on College Avenue, there are more sandbags at Lorrie LaCosse’s home, who WISH-TV’s sister station WLFI spoke with Wednesday. After five hours of sleep, she had to work her regular job Thursday.

“It’s very nerve-wracking because you want to know what’s going on every minute because you never know if something is going to turn around really fast and a wall would wash out,” said LaCosse.

The number of pumps keeping LaCosse’s home dry is now up to six. More neighbors and even strangers are helping make it work.

“It really does mean a lot,” says LaCosse. “I don’t even know how you repay people that save your house. It’s a really big deal.”

“I just want to say thank you,” adds Hickman. “Rensselaer is just a wonderful city. It really is.”

Amid the buzz of activity, it’s quieter at the Red Cross shelter at the First Presbyterian Church. One person stayed overnight Wednesday night. Another family with an infant, who was just one week old, was put up at a motel.

“We filed a declaration of local emergency with the state,” Jasper County Emergency Management Director Karen Wilson tells News 18. “There’s really nothing else to do at this point. We can only do so much until the rain stops.”

Of 11,000 sandbags initially filled, 8,500 have been taken. Because rain is expected to continue, 25,000 more were dropped off Thursday.

Wilson cautions residents to remain on alert and have an action plan ready to go.

“Be prepared,” she says. “Have their things ready to go. Know where they are going. Let family know where they are going.”

With the sun poking through the clouds and trees, things can look a little better at times, but the worst may not be over. Either way, it’s a flood that residents here will remember for quite some time and a memorable honeymoon for Hickman too.

“Yes, definitely, I won’t forget this one,” she says with a laugh. “We’ll have to do another one.”

Hopefully, one that is scheduled for sunnier weather.

According to the National Weather Service, the previous record of the Iroquois River in Rensselaer was in 2003 with a crest of 16.59 feet. The recorded level was 16.68 Thursday evening, a couple hundredths of a foot higher than it was in the afternoon. In March 2009, the flood crested at 16.16 feet. In June 2013, it crested at 13.94 feet. The NWS has been keeping records since at least 1949.

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