Jasper prepares for flood as Patoka Lake releases deluge

May Kleeman helped as much as she could with the sandbags
May Kleeman helped sandbag her friend's house.

A steady flow of cars and trucks began to park in front of the barricade as more and more curious folk arrived to view the water flowing over the dam at Patoka Lake. What began as a few curious onlookers began to take on the atmosphere of a social event as worried farmers, homeowners, and the just plain curious began to gather and discuss what they were seeing.

Homeowners and farmers discussing the Lake
Worried homeowners and farmers laughed, but concern about the rising water and how it was going to affect their land and businesses was the heavy topic.

The barricade was approximately a half mile away from water covered road. People weren’t walking down to view the road; they were there to see the roaring water that was cascading from the spillway down the hillside.

Jasper Mayor Bill Schmitt announced at a late morning news conference that the Corp of Engineers would begin to steadily increase the amount of water allowed through the gates at the dam.  At this point the flow was leaving the gate at an estimated 1900 cubic feet per second and the gate would be opened up to 4000 cubic feet per second.

According to a spokesperson at the station, although the gate was being slowly opened the emergency spillway was already releasing 2000 cubic feet per second.

Howard Wagner, a homeowner, described how the last time the discharge had been bad enough to flood the area the Corp had come to his house and asked how far they could let the water onto his property. He pointed at a spot away from his barns and the engineers pounded a stake into the ground to mark the line. This time is different Wagner soon found out when he spoke to the Corp of Engineers at the dam.

Wagner asked about the water and how far it was going up. An answer followed, Wagner became quiet and put the phone away. “He said this isn’t like anything we have ever seen before. He said to start packing.”

two men toss sandbags over a fence
Kyle Hoffman caught sandbags as they were thrown over by James Scheppers at the Old Town Storage. The two work for Tom Colin the owner of the Autoplex.

Wagner lives less than a mile downstream from the dam. He moved here in 1978 and soon after the dam became functional.

“They explained a dam failure like this,” He relates. “When you spill a glass of milk on a table, near the lip of the glass there isn’t much milk, but all over the table is a lot of milk.” He wasn’t sure if it was good to be this close to the lip of the glass.

A curious and concerned Dan Balka, Superintendent of the Northeast Dubois County School Corporation, also showed up at the barricade.

Soon after the announcements, Jasper began bracing for the impact of a flood that could be worse than the flood of 1968. Pallets of sandbags where delivered to houses and businesses in wake of the approaching water. At the Dunn residence on 4th Street members of the family scrambling to place a wall of sandbags around the home. The owner, Becky Ruber, was out of town on vacation and water from the flood was already at her driveway.

Carol and Dan Neukam on 5th Street were busy loading belongings into a large box truck. Family members were hastily carting stuff up the stairs, some boxes already sopping wet from the previous week’s rain.

“We have a house built and we are trying to sell this one,” Dan said. “But we haven’t yet and there is a lot of stuff in the basement.”

“Our neighbor told us that during the 68′ flood he had to take a row boat to work on 7th Street.” Carol said. “If it gets that high then I don’t think the porch will be safe.”

two girls load a moving truck
Haley Gudorf hands Jessie Gudorf a box as the two help their family move from their home on 5th Street.