Hovercraft used in boat rescue at Packard Park

Rising waters quickly turned critical for a Leavittsburg neighborhood along the Mahoning River on Thursday afternoon.

Residents along Meadowbrook Drive were removed from their homes by emergency rescue units in boats and rafts after waters continued to rise.

And Thursday night, emergency crews used the Trumbull County hovercraft to rescue a boater hung up a tree in fast-moving flood currents of the Mahoning River behind Packard Park.

Warren and Bazetta fire crews were called out about 8:15 p.m. on a report of a man in a kayak caught in a tree and debris in the overflowing river at the southwest section of the park. Later reports stated it was two men in a boat who clung to the tree after their craft began to sink.

More than 40 people watched from the hill behind Packard Music Hall as safety crews first in a rescue boat, then in the Trumbull County hovercraft, made various passes in an attempt 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.

Ray Smithberger said he saw the several rescue attempts made by fire crews when there was still daylight.

”They got as close as they could but you could see the water current was so strong and pushed them away,” he said.

Connor Grinder of Warren said, ”I’ve been here since the fire department pulled in. They tried to get close but there is so much water even the fire trucks had to stop and turn around.”

The rescue was completed about 10:45 p.m. The men were wrapped in blankets and taken for medical checkups. Their names and conditions were not released Thursday night.

According to the National Weather Service, the river at Leavittsburg was at 16.2 feet at 7:15 p.m. and expected to crest at 16.3 feet by midnight – which would make it the fifth-highest the river has been recorded and just a few inches below “Major Flood Stage.” Normal flood stage for that portion of the river is 10 feet.

“Right now, we’re going door-to-door, attempting to get the residents to evacuate,” Warren Township fire Chief Ken Schick said Thursday afternoon.

Though the evacuation was optional, Schick urged homeowners in the breached areas to relocate until further notice. Electricity and gas were cut off in the affected areas to prevent inaccessible fires.

“We want the people to come out and be evacuated now,” Schick said. “We don’t like to go back there more than one time. It’s dangerous for all of us doing this.”

Jerry Moxley, 4370 Meadowbrook Drive, was one of the first residents to evacuate. Due to his wife’s health condition, his options were limited. Officials had to make several trips to the home for necessary items like a wheelchair, and important medication and medical devices.

“She’s usually under oxygen and, without any power, we had to get out,” Moxley said. “We’re going to my brother-in-law’s place. We were going down to the Red Cross but they just have cots. She has bad lungs and she has to be elevated.”

Moxley commended rescue units for arriving on his doorstep in a boat and initiating the removal. It remains unclear how long Moxley and others will be displaced before it is safe for them to go home.

“They don’t know how long it’s going to be,” Moxley said. “They said that it could be tomorrow before the river crests. They really don’t know.”

The flooding was the result of heavy rains Wednesday afternoon, which overflowed sewer drains and forced run-off water to flow into the streets. Warren Township was aided in the evacuations by fire departments in Warren, Lordstown, Braceville, Weathersfield, Champion, Bristol, Mecca, Brookfield and Southington, according to Trumbull County 911.

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

“Some of them just refuse to go,” Schick said. “They said they’ve seen this before and they will not leave.”

One of those residents who did not want to leave his home was Daniel Walters, who lives at the corner of North Leavitt Road and Meadowbrook Drive. The 52-year-old said he has lived in the home with his brother-in-law off and on for the last decade.

“Our house is up pretty high and it hasn’t really gotten close to the main level yet,” Walters said. “So, we feel like we’re good. The basement would have to totally flood or we’re OK.”

According to Walters, he witnessed similar flooding in 2003, but this was the worst incident he has seen.

“That last flood in 2003, the water was up to our gas meter,” Walters said. “But still, the upper level of the house stayed dry. This time, the water isn’t quite as high, but it is still coming up quickly.”

Officials could not specify exactly when the water would crest or at what level, but Schick said another foot or more was not out of the question.

“The river is still coming up,” Schick said. “That’s all we know for sure right now.”

Meanwhile, the Red Cross of the Mahoning Valley has been open since early Thursday morning providing assistance to people needing emergency help as a result of this week’s floods.

Jessica Jaros, disaster relief supervisor at the Red Cross in Warren, said they have been in contact with those leading rescue efforts in Leavittsburg.

“We are working with EMA and the fire department there,” Jaros said. “We’ve also been performing disaster assessments on homes. We are providing home clean-up kits once we do assessments of the homes.”

Jaros urged those needing assistance to call her office at 330-392-2551.

Tamara McBride, spokeswoman for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency detailed their efforts in helping with evacuations and other storm-related incidents across the state.

“Once that threat is communicated to our offices, our local agency will get involved with law enforcement and others to eliminate that threat,” McBride said. “It really all depends on what the needs of the people are.”

While Leavittsburg was particularly hard hit, other communities around Trumbull County also were dealing with the aftermath of Wednesday’s storm.

Howland fire Chief Jim Pantalone said they received 20 calls, mostly for water in basements, and in one incident where two women were stranded in a vehicle due to high water at Englewood and Shaffer roads.

”We have had other storms where we had far more calls,” Pantalone said.

In Champion, in addition to calls for wires down and flooded basements, residents in the four lower apartments of the Folsom Street apartment complex were evacuated. The fire department secured the utilities.

In Warren, road closed signs were posted due to high water on Pine Avenue S.E., Fulton Street S.E. at South Park Avenue, and Highland Avenue heading to Lordstown.

Warren fire Capt. Bill Monrean explained one of the key problems with the flooding has been motorists attempting to drive over high standing water.

“Absolutely, positively do not drive into any standing water,” Monrean said. “We had four or five rescues of people from high standing water. There are people driving around barricades.

“Pine Avenue has barricades that say “high water,” “dangerous,” “stay out” … They’re driving around the barricades and into the water. I don’t know how we can stress this enough. Stay out of the high water,” he said.