By C.J. LOVELACE AND TRISH RUDDER
4:09 PM EDT, September 2, 2012
BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va.
Heavy rainstorms swept through parts of Morgan County early Saturday evening, dropping 4 to 6 inches of rain in about three hours.
In a matter of minutes, the quickly rising floodwaters put much of downtown Berkeley Springs under several feet of water shortly before 7 p.m.
“It was incredible,” Richard Boldt of Richmond, Va., said Sunday. “I’ve never seen it come up this fast.”
Boldt said he came to town with his wife to visit the town’s historic bathhouses in Berkeley Springs State Park, along U.S. 522.
But that wasn’t possible, as most of the park was under 3 to 5 feet of water before the flooding receded late Saturday night.
“We’ve been coming for 31 years,” Boldt said, taking a break from snapping photos of the aftermath. “I’ve seen it cover 522 in front of CNB (Bank), but I’ve never seen it like this.”
Berkeley Springs State Park staff member Dale Miller said the flooding was caused by the overflow of Warm Springs Run, which meanders through the town.
“The water was as high as the middle of the fence,” he said, which encloses the swimming pool area in the park that was built next to the waterway. The water line was marked by the debris left on the fence after the water receded.
J.J. Steiner, maintenance supervisor for the park, said that about 5 inches of rain fell locally, flooding the first floor of the old Roman bathhouse and damaging numerous motors, pumps and utility systems on the park’s grounds.
“The main park office was flooded, so we’re just in a cleanup mode right now,” he said.
Morgan County Office of Emergency Services Director Dave Michael said the rain fell from about 3 to 6 p.m. He said a local state of emergency was declared immediately to allow the W.Va. Department of Highways, or DOH, to shut down flooded roadways because they were unsafe.
Sections of Washington Street (U.S. 522), Martinsburg Road (W.Va. 9 east) and Winchester Grade Road were among the roadways that were closed during the flooding, he said.
“More than 2 feet of water stood across Washington Street during the three-hour period,” Michael said.
When the water receded on Washington Street, DOH, fire department and police officials opened one lane for traffic to move and later opened both lanes at about 11 p.m., he said.
The heavy rain caused a mudslide on W.Va. 9 west in front of the Berkeley Springs Castle, but no one was hurt, Michael said.
Morgan County Commissioner Brad Close said there were 1 to 2 feet of water on Washington Street when he arrived at about 8 p.m. Saturday.
“This is one of the biggest storms that I’d say our county has seen in the last 20 or so years,” Close said. “It was crazy to say the very least.
“It’s not what I ever dreamed it would be when I got down here,” he said. “It’s scary for this town because I don’t want to say that we weren’t prepared for it, but it’s hard to prepare for something to happen that happens that quickly.”
Based on initial damage assessments, Michael said he did not think the flooding caused any structural damage to public buildings.
The remnants from the high waters could be seen along streets and all through the state park, which draws people from all over the region to its bathhouses and natural springs.
Tree branches, leaves and bits of debris were stuck under bridges and wooden benches in the park. Standing water and mud covered just about every walkway and surface, and many areas of the park were cordoned off with yellow caution tape.
Linda Nelson of Leonardtown, Md., had an appointment at the bathhouses this weekend, but Saturday’s storms changed her plans, she said.
“We came down early this morning and it’s just totally under mud,” Nelson said, standing near a pile of ripped-up asphalt that was removed from a damaged entrance bridge into the park.
Steiner, who had been working since 6 a.m. Sunday, said it would be several days, if not a full week, before the facilities and equipment could be repaired and reopened to the public.
The flooding also affected nearby residences and businesses, many with several feet of water in their basements.
Bill Slate, a maintenance worker for Berkeley Springs Investments, was pumping water out of the basement of the Stop & Shop on North Washington Street at about 11 a.m. Sunday.
Slate said there was about 6 feet of water in the basement before they started pumping liquid out with two sump pumps at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday. About 2 feet remained Sunday.
“There’s actually tunnels that go under here that carry this water, and they filled up and just overwhelmed the system,” he said. “Luckily for this place, this basement here is more of a crawlspace. There’s just water meters down there.”
The storm canceled Sunday’s Art in the Park, according to artist/promoter Michael Nathan.
“We called the sheriff’s office and were told the town sewer system was backing up,” Nathan said.
He said he hopes to hold the event Sept. 9 if park officials approve it.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church canceled Sunday morning’s service due to flooding in the church undercroft. Church member Jim Russell took pictures for insurance purposes before the cleaning crew arrived.
Berkeley Springs business owner Chuck Wheeler said the basements were flooded in his two buildings on Fairfax Street. He said several businesses in town were closed due to flooding, including Tari’s Café on Washington Street, which “was badly flooded and will be closed for a week.”
A shelter was set up Saturday night for displaced residents at Warm Springs Middle School, Close said.
The last time the town flooded this badly was in 1996, Steiner said, but even then it was still 9 or 10 inches lower than Saturday’s flooding.
“It’s the worst flooding I’ve seen in my 15 or 16 years here,” Wheeler said.
After a Sunday meeting of local, state and county officials, Close said the focus is “on assessment.”
Information is still being gathered regarding the storm’s impact to roads, culverts and trash pickup for Berkeley Springs’ restaurants, Close said.
No pollutants were found in the town drinking water because the water department, Berkeley Springs Water Works, shut the plant down, Close said.
Michael will contact the state EMS director to request a damage-assessment team, whose members “go door to door” to assess any damage.
Participating in Sunday’s meeting were Town of Bath Mayor Susan Webster; Del. Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan; and Morgan County Commissioners Close, Brenda Hutchinson and Stacy Dugan.
Jason Pizatela, county liaison to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office, participated by telephone, Close said.
A follow-up meeting will be Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in the Morgan County Commission offices at the courthouse.
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