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June 9, 2008

Indiana flooding breaks records set in 1913 flood

Flooding that's swamped cities across central and southern Indiana is breaking records set during the state's most devastating flood in modern times - a deluge that became known as The Great Flood of 1913.

That March 1913 flood inundated dozens of Indiana communities along the state's major rivers, causing widespread destruction. Floodwaters even swamped parts of Indianapolis, destroying bridges over the White River and homes in some of the capital city's neighborhoods.

Nearly a century later, the highest notch on many of Indiana's flood markers remain those set by that "landmark" flood, said Scott Morlock, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Indiana.

But the latest wave of flooding had already set eight new flood depth or water volume records by Monday. Of particular interest to emergency management officials Monday was a record flood level set on the White River at Newberry about 100 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

That site is just north of Elnora, where Indiana National Guardsmen and Marines were sandbagging to protect homes and businesses against rising floodwaters.

At Newberry, the White River rose to 28.04 feet on Monday morning - a level about 15 feet above flood stage that tops the previous record of 27.50 feet set in 1913.

Morlock said about 748,000 gallons of water were rushing by that point each second Monday as runoff from Saturday's 10-inch rainfall continued pushing downstream.

"Obviously this is a major flood, a record flood," he said.

Even at those sites where flooding hasn't eclipsed records set in 1913, Morlock said the current flooding ranks along with other flood years in 1937, 1982, 1991 and 2005.

He said the Geological Survey monitors the state's rivers with 175 solar-powered water gauges that transmit data in real-time to give forecasters the latest changes in the rivers.

Those readings are made every 15 minutes and transmitted once an hour to help National Weather Service forecasters decide where and when to issue flood warnings, he said.

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