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 of rain drenched the county seat in a short period of time 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,” Wittenborn said. “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 three feet in just 20 minutes,” Wittenborn said. “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. 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, Morocco and Watseka (Ill.) fire departments, worked to rescue and/or evacuate 60-80 people from water-filled streets, stranded cars and flooded homes.
Other agencies that helped during the rescues included the Goodland Fire Department, Newton County EMA, Newton County EMS, Newton County Sheriff’s Department, Kentland Police, Indiana State Police, Indiana 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,” Wittenborn said. “We even rescued a family a 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 rose 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,” Wittenborn said. “The water was five-feet high in some homes and the water was six-feet deep at places on the south side 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,” Wittenborn said. “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 the firehouse.
“There is going to be a lot of clean-up done for weeks around town.”
On Sunday, town crews were working to clear the streets and stormwater basins.
Trash and debris removal in Kentland will continue throughout the week. There are trash bins available across from the public works building (207 East Goss). If people have the ability to take items to the trash bin area, they are welcome to do so.
Appliances can be taken to the Newton County Highway Department in Morocco (3653 South 275 West). For those who are unable to take appliances to Morocco, local recyclers are available to pick up curbside.