Communities begin to assess damage to roads, bridges from flooding

Water flows Feb. 20 over Wisconsin Street bridge over Lake George, south of Third Street. 

Communities' leaders on Thursday continued to urge residents affected by flooding to report any uninsured property damage as municipal workers worked to assess infrastructure damage.

The number of residents in the Lake Station/Gary area without gas service because of floodwaters fell to fewer than 15, down from 35 earlier this week, a NIPSCO spokeswoman said.

On Ramsey Road in northern Jasper County, 26 NIPSCO customers remained without gas service.

The levee at Ramsey's Landing was repaired, but the area needs to dry out more before residents who evacuated homes in that area can go back, said Jody Melton, executive director of the Kankakee River Basin Commission. The Kankakee was expected recede some by Friday in Porter County, but remain at or near record height at Shelby through much of next week.

Melton was checking river gauges from his office in Portage early Thursday afternoon.

"It doesn't look like anything is rising, even from this rain we got," he said. 

The Kankakee takes a long time to recede, he said.

"It's sort of depressing, but at least it's not going up."

Officials in areas affected by flooding said they were working to document response costs following Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's emergency declaration for 26 counties, including Lake and Jasper, Newton and Porter. Holcomb added Newton and Porter on Friday.

No state or federal money has been made available yet, but documentation by residents also will be vital as the state considers the scope of damage and possible recovery funding, officials said.

Residents with property damage should contact their insurance providers first, Gary officials said.

Those with property damage not covered by insurance should report it at http://bit.ly/2018rainfall. A link to the portal also can be found at dhs.in.gov under Featured Topics. 

Gary officials said residents should clean up or make repairs as needed, but diligently document all damage with photos and receipts. The documentation will be critical if any state or federal funding becomes available.

Daily inspections at Lake George Dam

Hobart officials said late Wednesday they planned to lower the level of Lake George by 2 to 4 feet because a small amount of seepage from the dam was discovered. 

The city planned to work with state and federal partners and its engineering consultant to conduct a more thorough inspection of the dam and make any necessary repairs, City Engineer Phillip Gralik said. That process could take at least 30 days.

"I don't think anyone downstream has anything to worry about," Gralik said. "It will take us a week or two to lower the lake to do the inspection. That gives us a best-case scenario of a couple of weeks to make any repairs."

There is no immediate threat to the dam or residents, and public safety is the city's top priority, Gralik said.

The lake cannot be lowered too much, or aquatic life could be harmed, he said. 

The Lake County Highway Department has been inspecting all bridges near Deep River, the Little Calumet River and other waterways in south Lake County, including the Singleton Ditch and Griesel Ditch, department engineer Duane Alverson said. So far, no major damage has been discovered.

Some minor erosion has been found, and there are concerns about a washout on Clay Street near the Kankakee River, he said. Officials are not concerned about the integrity of the Clay Street Bridge, which is new, Alverson said.

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Staff must wait for water levels to recede before they can conduct more thorough inspections under some bridges, he said.

Officials in Hobart and Lake County said they have been documenting manhours, equipment costs and materials costs. Agencies could be reimbursed if state or federal assistance becomes available. 

The Lake County Highway Department has delivered nearly 1,000 tons of loose sand and about 1,500 sandbags since the flooding began, department Superintendent Jan Smoljan said. Department staff also have been working overtime to map pumps in south Lake County 24/7.

The work will continue as long as the river remains high, he said.

"We'll do whatever is necessary to help the people out," Smoljan said. "Whatever it takes."

Food, shelter, cleanup kits available

The American Red Cross on Wednesday began distributing lunch and dinner to the hardest-hit areas of Lake and Jasper counties. Residents affected by flooding who are in need of Red Cross support should call 888-684-1441.

The state warned well water in flood-affected areas might be contaminated with pathogens and unsafe to consume. Residents who use wells should contact their local health department to coordinate testing to ensure their water sources are safe to drink.

Flood-affected residents also should be on the lookout for mold. State officials said any items that have been wet for two or more days should be removed, and a mixture of no more than one cup of bleach per gallon of water can be used to remove mold on rigid surfaces such as countertops, floors, sinks and stoves and plastic toys. Mold can be growing and not be visible.

People and animals should stay out of floodwaters, because they can contain various contaminants, chemicals and other dangerous pollutants that can make people and animals sick.

The Calumet Township trustee's office will be providing cleaning kits, including Tyvek suits, laundry supplies and donated clothes. Supplies can be picked up starting Saturday at the the township multipurpose center, 1900 W. 41st Ave. in Gary. There are no income requirements, but recipients must show proof they live in the township.

Gary also will be providing Tyvek suits, gloves and pamphlets on mold cleanup from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday to March 11 at the Hudson Campbell Fitness Center, 455 Massachusetts St.

Residents in need of temporary housing, food vouchers and emergency replacement or repair of some appliances can call the township offices at 219-718-2031. Callers who say they're in need of flood relief will get an immediate appointment.

Gary also has limited funds for emergency replacement or repair of furnaces or hot water heaters. Schedule an appointment by calling 219-881-5075.

Gary encouraged residents to monitor the city's website, local access channel and social media accounts for updates.

On Friday, the state announced the opening of one-stop shops beginning Monday at Polk Elementary School, 2460 Vermillion St., in Lake Station and DeMotte Town Hall at 112 Carnation St., in DeMotte in Jasper County. 

State agencies will have representatives on site to provide immediate assistance, answer questions for those who have suffered a loss, and offer housing support, unemployment insurance, insurance and public health information, and transportation support. Representatives will also be on site to connect farmers and land owners to assistance programs. 

The Polk Elementary will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. DeMotte Town Hall will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. 

The American Red Cross and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster will be on site to deliver basic necessities for those needing food, water or clothing and other essential items, according to a news release.  

Gallery: Flooding in Northwest Indiana

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