The Daily Star names its top story of the year

Published 9:43 am Monday, December 31, 2018

As the remaining days of 2018 whittle down to a new year, the Niles Daily Star reflects on the year’s top 10 stories. Each day will feature one of the biggest stories of the year that brought about significant change for the community and this year there was a lot. From coming together to in times of tragedy to seeing new business developments and legislation change the economic landscape it has been a busy year brimming with accomplishments and events that promise an equally exciting year ahead.

Number 2: Historic flooding damages homes and businesses in Niles

Widespread flooding across southwest Michigan and northern Indiana followed days of heavy rainstorms in late February.

In Niles, the St. Joseph River rose to historic proportions, cresting at 17.3 feet — more than two feet higher than the last record-breaking crest.

Water rushed over its banks starting Tuesday, Feb. 20. By Wednesday, Feb. 21, the water had inundated homes, streets, government buildings and local parks.

Parts of Front, Second, Bond, Ferry, Cass and Howard streets were barricaded due to floodwaters. Local authorities made seven water vehicle rescues of residents who attempted to drive through the high water with their cars. No injuries were reported. 

Approximately 50 structures were identified as flooded, including two apartment complexes. Homes along Phoenix and River streets, as well as N. Front Street, were among those impacted. Three households opted to be evacuated to a nearby hotel. Residents of the Kling Estates Apartment, 718 Broadway St., were evacuated due to a collapsed wall in the building. The Niles Dial-A-Ride and the wastewater treatment plant also experienced flooding.

During a press conference to debrief media on the incident, Mayor Nick Shelton said the city was there to help residents and business owners deal with the situation.

“We have never seen anything like the flood of 2018, as models showed the flood zone beyond the 500-year mark,” Shelton said. “We’re hurting for our residents. We’re hurting for our property owners that have been affected. We’re really hurting for our business owners who have been affected. It’s devastating and it’s something that we don’t want to see happen again, but we’re here to help in the ways that we can.”

A number of Niles businesses were also damaged in the wake of the floodwaters. Wonderland Cinema, Custom Computer Company, Hot Wok, Save-A-Lot, Dollar General and Front Street Pizza Pub, were forced to close temporarily.

Number 1: Residents across southwest Michigan come together to help flood victims

As the floodwaters receded through the end of February, residents, business owners and the city began making repairs to homes, businesses and infrastructure. While it was a daunting task for those left with the cleanup, many sought to make sure that residents were not alone. 

In early March, the city of Niles and United Way of Southwest Michigan partnered to help with residents clear out flood wreckage from their homes. Hundreds of volunteers, including city officials, students and residents from across Michiana, stepped up to help out with the effort on March 1 and 2.

Along Marmont, Phoenix and Parkway streets, some of the hardest hit areas, residents facing the loss of their personal belongings and property expressed gratitude for the help.

The kindness did not stop there — week after week, more stories surfaced about those wanting to help flood victims and business owners get back on their feet. Custom Computer Company, which lost almost all its inventory to flooding, received a donation of computers from Honor Credit Union. Volunteers pulled on gloves and face masks to help business owners clear out the wreckage from inside their shops.

City officials, firefighters and police officers worked untold hours to help residents in a variety of ways from reporting damage to sharing pertinent information. After rescuing hundreds of animals, Berrien County Animal Control helped to reunite them with pet owners.

Charity organizations like the Niles Salvation Army prepared flood kits and served volunteers lunch while they helped with cleanup efforts. Evy’s Closet offered to give free clothing to those in need after the flood. Buchanan business owners Anna Gordon and Julie Capron donated clothing to those displaced by the flooding in Berrien Springs. Others also helped by providing shelter or volunteer services, including the American Red Cross, the Niles-Buchanan YMCA, the Niles District Library, Niles History Center and area churches.

Within a month of flooding, the community began to see moments of triumph. Roads re-opened, residents’ cleanup wrapped up and ribbon cuttings celebrated business re-opening, including Custom Computer Company, Front Street Pizza Pub and Wonderland Cinema.

This Christmas season, Mayor Nick Shelton reflected on 2018 at a Holiday Homecoming celebration at the Niles Amtrak Depot. Shelton said he wanted to recognize the Niles community for coming together during the flood.

“We had each other’s back,” Shelton said. “I saw strangers collecting debris and shoveling sludge from peoples’ basements. I saw volunteers lining up to contribute to cleanup efforts.”