Post-flood recovery: Monday signing of local disaster declaration part of Monroe County’s two-pronged approach to aid, officials caution against high hopes

On Monday, Monroe County board of commissioners president Julie Thomas signed a declaration of local disaster, because of weekend flooding that hit downtown Bloomington and other areas of the county.

The disaster declaration will appear for ratification on the three-member board’s regular meeting agenda on Wednesday.

A declaration of local disaster, under Indiana Code 10-14-3-29, will “activate the response and recovery aspects of all applicable local or interjurisdictional disaster emergency plans.”

Such a declaration could also make homeowners and business owners alike eligible for reimbursement of uninsured flood damages by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

But the county’s emergency manager, Allison Moore, told a gathering of about 25 business and nonprofit leaders on Monday morning that nothing is guaranteed to be reimbursed.

Still, a disaster declaration would “help our cause,” Moore said, in connection with another approach the county is taking. The second approach is to ask the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest loan assistance.

Help from the SBA will depend on documented damages to at least 25 businesses or nonprofits, Moore told the group. The threshold to qualify is at least 40-percent damage to the business.

When the heavy rains fell on Friday night, businesses along the stretch of Kirkwood just west of Indiana University’s Sample Gates, were deluged with water that was thigh- to waist-deep in the street. That meant several feet of water in basements. Businesses saw damage to inventory and as well as computer equipment.

The threshold of 25 damaged businesses was a message that Moore is hoping will be spread far and wide from Monday morning’s meeting at People’s Park. Moore’s contact information is amoore at the county’s domain, which is

The park, at the corner of Dunn Street and Kirkwood Avenue, was among the areas of downtown Bloomington that were flooded, when 5 to 7 inches of rain fell late Friday night and early Saturday morning.

The People’s Park gathering of Kirkwood Community Association members as well as others, was organized by Village Deli owner Bob Costello.

Fire chief: “What a lot of you are dealing with, we’re dealing with it as well.”

On Monday morning, Bloomington fire chief Jason Moore described to the gathering at People’s Park a bit of what the fire department’s Friday night was like. He thanked business owners for their help in getting people out of harm’s way.

Moore said a lot of people who were trapped by flood waters called 911. It took a while to get to some of them Moore, said, and they received instructions to shelter in place.

In about eight hours, the city’s fire department responded to 76 calls, and the county’s fire protection district responded to another 60 calls inside the city, Moore said. He summed up those numbers this way: “What we do in a month, we ran in one single night.”

Moore said as far as he knows, the flooding caused one fatality.

Given that the department had to rescue probably over 100 people that night, Moore said, it could have been a lot worse.

Moore told the group at People’s Park that there are still downed power lines and power outages. He told them when power comes back on, after things have been flooded, everything should be checked over by an electrician.

Moore told the group that the fire station at 4th and Lincoln streets, a couple of blocks away, is running on generator power—even though the generator should have been shut off. “We can’t even turn it off because all the generator controls are in the basement under 8 feet of water,” Moore said.

He wrapped up by saying, “What a lot of you are dealing with, we’re dealing with it as well.”

Utilities director: “There’s always a storm that’s bigger than you can handle.”

City of Bloomington utilities director Vic Kelson was on hand at People’s Park to field questions about the Hidden River project. The project is renovating the underground culvert that runs from Dunn Meadow at Indiana Avenue to 1st Street and College Avenue, where the waterway re-emerges above ground.

Normally the culvert runs completely underground from Dunn Meadow at Indiana Avenue to 1st Street and College Avenue, where the waterway re-emerges above ground.

Kelson told those gathered in People’s Park that the project had not contributed to the weekend flooding. “The project as it’s configured does not block the flow.” Kelson added, in response to a question, that the flow was not even restricted by the construction project.

On Saturday, from the corner of Lincoln Street and Smith Avenue, at the Milestone Contractor’s construction site, it was possible to glimpse the “river” that is normally hidden. Absent a heavy rain, the flow is normally more like a trickle.

Hidden River Project job site on morning of June 19, 2021. Looking from the east at the intersection of Smith Avenue and Lincoln Street.

Kelson said he is still waiting to receive data from the National Weather Service (NWS) on how much rain fell and where. He said the storm appeared to be very intense in a small area. Kelson said, “I lived in Florida for a few years. This was like Florida rain just for a little while.”

Kelson cautioned that the NWS data might not be especially precise with respect to locations, so a lot of estimates might be required.

Kelson was asked at the park meeting if the Hidden River project would prevent flooding like Kirkwood experienced over the weekend from happening again. Kelson said, “[The underground culvert] will certainly carry a lot more water.”

Kelson said the completion of the Hidden River project would have meant an improvement compared to the water levels Kirkwood saw over the weekend.” But until the data on the rainfall comes in, it won’t be possible to say much, Kelson said.

Kelson added, “There’s always a storm that’s bigger than you can handle.”