St. Joe flooding banks

Published 12:53 pm Saturday, January 15, 2005

By By MIKELL FREY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - With over five inches of rain since the beginning of January and a mid-Winter thaw that came earlier this past week, Barb Lutin spent Friday afternoon at her Marmont Street residence preparing for the worst.
Lutin, who has had to evacuate nine times in the 20 years she has lived on the St. Joseph River due to floods, took a sick day from work and started stacking all her belongings a foot off the ground level.
Trapped inside her single level blue house, Lutin was losing all hope, when the Niles Fire Department and City Street Department came to the rescue. Equipped with sandbags and a water pump for the front lawn, which was completely immersed under more than a foot of water, the group got to work on saving Lutin's home.
Niles firemen spent the day reassuring a reasonably upset Lutin to stay calm and relax. They brought her updated reports on the river level, helped her stack her belongings up high and offered to bring crates up from the basement to put her couches on.
As of Friday, at 1 p.m., Lutin had decided to stay put and ride out the rising levels of water. She said that if water did happen to make its way into the house, she would bundle up her cat, Triscuit, and go to a friends for what would be her 10th evacuation from the at-risk home.
On Monday, prior to three days of unusually warm weather and rain, the St. Joseph river level was at a stable seven feet. By 8 a.m. Friday morning the river level had risen to 12.39 ft., which is 1.39 above the 11-foot flood stage. It was predicted early Friday by the National Weather Service to crest at 12.9 ft., and slowly fall off this morning around 5 a.m.
Director of Public Works Neil Coulston, who went down to Lutin's home on Marmont Street with fire chief Larry Lamb to assess the situation early Friday morning, reassured that the flooding situation in the Niles area should remain minor, and the city will be doing everything they can to help.
When flooding has occurred in the past on the St. Joseph River it has carried debris, trash and logs into the river from the banks. On occasion it has even washed people's piers down the river, never to return.
Coulston predicts this flooding incident to be no different then other minor floods that have occurred over the years in the past, but as of Friday could not gauge the size of the clean-up process it would necessitate.
He said, "We won't really know what kind of mess we'll need to deal with until the river drops."
Coulston did, however, advise that necessary precautions be taken down by the riverfront this weekend at the ice fest, with the river being so high over its bank. "I would advise people to stay away from the river, and keep track of their kids if involved in activities close by the river."
As for Lutin, she has asked the city to let her keep the sand bag fortress they equipped her with until March, when the threat of flooding has died down.