Austin deals with high waters

Published 10:30 am Friday, June 13, 2008

Conditions have improved across all three watersheds in Austin, according to Austin Police Chief Paul Philipp, who met with state and Federal Emergency Management Agency staff Thursday afternoon to determine initial damage assessments and set the course for further investigations Friday.

“They’re starting the damage assessments to find out what’s out there and what needs to be repaired,” Philipp said during a press conference Thursday afternoon, adding that he expected FEMA to announce funding assistance as early as Friday afternoon. “It’s just a matter of getting a better handle on things once the water goes down.”

According to the National Weather Service, the Cedar River, Dobbins Creek and Turtle River are on the decline following severe thunderstorms late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning that caused major flooding in neighborhoods and businesses surrounding waterways.

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Philipp said the Cedar River was “holding its own” at 22.4 feet Thursday; the National Weather Service said the river’s reading at 7 a.m. today was 18.8 feet. Turtle Creek has dipped to 12.24 feet, though is still above flood stage.

The chief said after talking to a few residents near Turtle Creek early Thursday afternoon, “…a lot of them feel like things are slowing down.”

The latest readings show Dobbins Creek at 9.04 feet, down from almost 19 feet Thursday.

“We like the blue sky,” Philipp said. “As the day wears on, the forecast looks good.”

City authorities awoke early Thursday morning to assess damages, and began notifying affected residents around 3 a.m., according to Philipp.

“(My husband) went to bed around 1 a.m., and at 2 a.m. the cops were knocking on our door,” Marian Dulitz of 21st Street Southwest said. “It came up that fast.”

Friends, families, neighbors and business owners were hard at work filling and strategically placing sandbags in the most severely-hit regions, such as Mill Pond near Main Street, neighborhoods along Turtle Creek, regions east of the Cedar River near City Hall and Oakland Avenue East.

“People have a real history with these types of things, and they’re pretty organized on how they deal with it,” Philipp said.

Sam Williams, 20, woke up at 5 a.m. to help with sump pumps, and, by 10:30 a.m., was still laying sandbags at The Cedars of Austin near Mill Pond on First Drive Northwest.

Williams said his grandmother had been bought out by the city of Austin as part of flood mitigation efforts, during which the officials have spent millions relocating businesses and community members chronically struck by floods.

Its $28.5 million flood mitigation plan is in progress; of the $11.5 Main Street flood plan, construction crews are working on Phase 8, which includes earthen berms and cement walls from Second Avenue Northeast to Packer Arena.

Philipp said that their work has not been heavily compromised.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said that small towns throughout the county fared well, though some road closures continue.

She and Philipp remind residents to avoid blocked roadways, as well as flooded regions.

“It’s important to know that some of the roads are washed away under these waters,” Philipp said. “Don’t drive through the water — I don’t know how many times we’ve said it.

“Gaukers are a huge problem,” he added.