KENTLAND — “It was a perfect storm,” said Kentland Fire Chief Matt Wittenborn.
That is how the massive flash flooding of Kentland and the surrounding area was described as 5 to 8 inches hit the county seat in a short period of time on Saturday (June 27).
“You take all the rain we had the night before, and then the heavy rain that hit the middle of town and south of town, and our ditches just can’t handle that amount of water,” said Wittenborn. “The ditches couldn’t get the water out of town quick enough.”
The result — the worse flooding the town has seen in recent memory as nearly every street in town had a portion of it underwater.
The Kentland Police made the initial call to the Kentland Fire Department around 4:30 p.m. as US 41 was starting to flood on the south end of town and drivers needed to be warned.
“While we were out there we watched as the water rose 3-feet in just 20 minutes,” added Wittenborn. “We all knew that water was headed straight to Kentland, plus the heavy rain was still coming down.”
As the Kentland Fire Department and other first responders started to prepare as the water was rising in town, their fire department was hit with flooding water and equipment had to be relocated to higher ground around the Newton County Courthouse.
Once the water started rising in Kentland there was no stopping it until early the next morning.
The Kentland Fire Department along with water rescue teams from Lake Township Fire Department, Morocco Fire Department, and Watseka Fire Department worked together to rescue and/or evacuate 60 to 80 people from water-filled streets, stranded cars, and flooded homes.
Other agencies that helped out during the rescues included the Goodland Fire Department, Newton County EMA, Newton County EMS, Newton County Sheriff’s Department, Kentland Police, Indiana State Police, Conservation Officers, Newton County Drug Task Force, INDOT, Newton County Highway, Brook Fire Department, and the Newton County Dispatch, which set up a mobile command for the disaster.
Residents with boats also chipped in to help.
“Some of the rescues included vehicles that were flooded on US 41, and US 24 as well as county roads,” said Wittenborn. “We even rescued a family of three, which included an infant on 1700 South. Rescues happened all the way from the state line on US 24 to in-between Kentland and Goodland. Three bridges were washed out including several county roads. We even lost a fire truck due to the flooding.”
The water on US 41 got so high that the Indiana State Police shut down the highway at Benton County and rerouted traffic up to SR 114.
“A lot of homes were damaged and several homes received a considerable amount of damage,” added Wittenborn. “The water was 5-feet high in some homes and the water was 6-feet deep at places on the southside of town.”
Some Kentland firefighters decided to assist with the rescue operations even though flooding was overtaking their homes.
“I am proud of everyone who helped out the community,” said Wittenborn. “Our guys pushed through and their dedication to this department and this community definitely shows.”
The water started to recede around 1 a.m. and the mobile command was shut down around 2 a.m. Kentland firefighters stayed until 5 a.m. cleaning their firehouse.
“There is going to be a lot of cleanup done for weeks around town.”
On Sunday, town crews were working to clear the streets and storm water basins.
Trash and debris removal in Kentland will continue throughout the week.