Flash flood clobbers Berkeley Springs hard
Heavy rain and flooding in Berkeley Springs on Saturday afternoon, September 1, swamped the town’s business section at the height of Labor Day weekend.
While rain had been predicted, the ferocity of the storm, the remnant of Hurricane Isaac, caught many completely off-guard.
The Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire Company responded to 19 calls, said Fire Chief Todd Ruppenthal.
These included water rescues, leaking propane tanks, a transformer fire, a lightning injury and three vehicle accidents.
Emergency Services Director Dave Michael declared a local state of emergency at 6:44 p.m. due to the serious flooding from five to six inches of rain. At that point, the storm had been raging for about three hours.
Chief Ruppenthal closed down Berkeley Springs traffic from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. because at least three feet of water flooded Washington Street and the main section of town. It was like a river, he said.
Ruppenthal, who had command of the scene in town, put a fire engine at Sheetz, an engine at the 7-11 and one at the courthouse.
He was concerned about the safety of drivers and pedestrians who were trying to navigate the floodwaters.
“People were trying to run through water up to their doors,” he said of motorists.
Firefighters rescued a woman at 2 South Washington Street who tried to move her car during the flooding and got trapped.
Another water rescue occurred at 300 Williams Street when a couple tried to enter their driveway after a grocery run and got stuck in more than 3 ft. of water when their vehicle stalled.
Firefighters also rescued three customers who were trapped inside the ice cream shop on Fairfax Street. Water was going in faster than they could get out. The shop had just shut down and everyone was trying to get out.
“They waited until the last minute,” Ruppenthal said.
South of town, a transformer caught fire at Roc’s from a tree falling across the electrical wire. Power was knocked out to Food Lion, McDonald’s, the traffic light at Morgan Square and that area for at least 45 minutes.
Firefighters also responded to a mudslide at the castle. Ruppenthal contacted the state highway division to bring a front loader to the site to get at least one lane of Rt. 9 West passable.
Propane tank damage
There were six calls about three propane tanks, one at Tari’s Café, one at the Best Western and one at Berkeley Springs High School. All three were leaking. Firefighters secured the tanks and shut them off.
At Tari’s, the water had gotten so high that it lifted the propane tank off the ground from its stand and broke off the valve. The tank was banging against the building, Ruppenthal said.
The valve had blown off the tank at Best Western and the tank at the high school had broken loose.
A truck went over an embankment on DeHaven Road off Fairview Drive. There was also a vehicle accident at Myers Road and Broadway Street, and another accident on Cacapon Road by the castle. All three were minor accidents with no injuries, Ruppenthal said.
Roads were washed out and blacktop torn up at U.S. 522 and Winchester Grade Road and along Martinsburg Road at a culvert by Peer Lane.
The flurry of emergency calls began at 4:15 p.m. with an electrical smell at Autumn Acres. They wrapped up at 9:34 p.m.
Firefighters also responded to a medical call for a person struck by residual lightning at Cacapon State Park around 4:30 p.m. When they arrived, the man was walking around and declined treatment, Ruppenthal said.
Park Superintendent Tom Ambrose said lightning had hit a tree at the park. A man was standing in water on the boat dock and received a residual jolt from the strike. The victim and his grandson, who was nearby, were both taken to the hospital to get checked out, Ambrose said.
Ambrose moved Sunday’s Cacapon State Park Homecoming indoors to the lodge for safety due to the forecast of more storms.
Red Cross shelter
A Red Cross shelter was opened temporarily at Warm Springs Middle School for people who couldn’t get back to their homes during the flooding, Ruppenthal said. Two people were there briefly and two others were put up at the Berkeley Springs Motel.
Great Cacapon Volunteer Fire Company helped with a call about a wire down on Cobert Lane off Peter Yost Road.
At least 25 Berkeley Springs firefighters responded to the flooding calls. Everyone worked well together and no one got hurt, Ruppenthal said.
School Maintenance Supervisor Alston Yost said a little water got into the Berkeley Springs High School vocational building.
About a half inch of water reached about 10 ft. down the hallway and was easily mopped up. Yost thought it may have gotten in where the handicapped accessible ramp goes into the double doors.
No other school buildings had any water in them, but the high school parking lots and courtyard were flooded. Water came up over the first step to the gymnasium building.
Yost and nine other employees worked 4 1/2 hours on Sunday to clean up debris, which consisted of leaves, branches and trash all over the campus.
Yost said the debris from the flooding at the high school wasn’t as extensive as in late July, 2007. At that time, they had three inches of rain and wound up with three inches of mud in the parking lots and basement.
Worst in memory
Fire Chief Ruppenthal said he’s lived in Berkeley Springs all his life and has never seen flooding this bad in town.
There was non-stop thunder and lightning during the four hours of storm.
As soon as the rain stopped, water levels dropped nearly as rapidly as they had risen.