Boaters recall river misadventure

WARREN – The scene along the portion of the Mahoning River that runs behind Packard Park on Friday was a far cry from the drama that unfolded the previous night when emergency crews worked to rescue two men caught up in the rushing water.

By Friday afternoon, the water had receded, but not enough for Eric Lowenkamp, 23, of Leavittsburg, and Herbert Holliday, 33, of Warren, to retrieve the watercraft they were forced to abandon late Thursday night.

“It was crazy,” remarked Holliday, as he scoped out the water surrounding his small, two-seater Bass Hunter boat and Lowenkamp’s kayak.

The watercraft had become entangled in branches and debris and the current continued moving fast enough that the two men did not want to risk going in after them on Friday.

“And I really don’t want to see anyone else, especially any kids, trying to get them out,” Holliday said. “It’s too dangerous.”

Lowenkamp and Holliday each suffered some scrapes and bruises but were back along the river early Friday morning checking on their watercraft.

“A few scratches and lots of hurt pride,” Holliday said. “It’s a bit embarrassing now. I never would have thought I’d be calling 911 like that. We really didn’t think it was that bad. At some points it wasn’t. We sure got a big surprise though.”

The men started their trek in Leavittsburg Thursday afternoon when many Warren Township residents, including Lowenkamp’s family, were being evacuated as rising waters of the Mahoning River quickly turned critical.

The rescue was among the more dramatic events to mark the aftermath of Wednesday’s storm, which poured nearly 4 inches of rain over the Mahoning Valley. However, it wasn’t the only one as emergency crews made their way to dozens of homes to transport residents out in boats and rafts during a Thursday afternoon evacuation of the Meadowbrook Drive area of the township. Although the evacuation was voluntary emergency crews urged residents to relocate. Utilities were shut off in the small community.

“Basically, they came and told us it was now or never,” said one resident who asked not to be named. “We had no idea it was even getting that bad and the next thing we knew we were gathering some of our things and leaving. It happened that fast. Even our animals were carried out on boats.”

The Mahoning River crested at 16.21 feet about 11 p.m. Thursday. Normal flood stage for that portion of the river is 10 feet.

The Red Cross of the Mahoning Valley was out providing assistance to people needing emergency help as a result of the week’s floods.

Jessica Jaros, disaster relief supervisor at the Red Cross in Warren, said the agency provided food and water to between 50 and 100 homes in Warren Township and handed out some 50 home cleanup kits.

On Friday, Red Cross staff and volunteers were back at it preparing to feed people residents of the flooded areas.

“We really didn’t expect to be doing a mobile feeding today, but hopefully as the water has receded and people are back in their homes things will start to calm down again for them,” Jaros said Friday afternoon. “We’ll do what we can to help as long as we’re needed.”

Parts of the township remained without power on Friday.

As of 6:15 p.m. Thursday, the only residents left on Meadowbrook Drive were those who refused to leave.

Holliday and Lowenkamp admitted that as the water continued to climb over the river’s banks, they saw it as an opportunity to hop on their watercraft troll around.

“But the water was was moving so fast. It carried us right along into the river and there we were,” Holliday said.

About 8:15 p.m. emergency crews were called to rescue the men after Holliday’s boat started to sink. Crews used the Trumbull County hovercraft to rescue the men. Holliday was still on his boat, however Lowenkamp was clinging to a tree as the fast-moving flood currents flowed around them.

“If I hadn’t held onto that tree, I wouldn’t be here right now. I just know that. That water was too strong and moving way too fast,” Lowenkamp said.

Lowenkamp explained he realized Holliday was in trouble and he tried to get to him, but the boat ended up pulling the kayak under water.

Rescuers made several passes trying to maneuver through the fast currents to the tree.

A medical helicopter flew above the park to spotlight the river for the rescue.

Much of the park was flooded from Wednesday’s storm, which made it difficult for rescuers to get close to the tree. Bystanders with binoculars watched as the fire crews try to get close.

The men said they first boarded their watercraft about 6 p.m., made the 911 call just after 8 p.m. The rescue was completed about 10:45 p.m., with Holliday spending the most time out on the water.