Beacon Journal staff report
The rain has come to a merciful end, but not before wreaking havoc in Akron on Wednesday.
A line of severe storms rumbled through Northeast Ohio on Wednesday afternoon, leaving residents from Medina to Akron to Green scrambling to their basements under the threat of possible tornadoes as ominous clouds swirled overhead.
Just before 5 p.m., Andrea Yoder and her three children were finishing a shopping trip at Walmart on South Arlington Road in Akron when the store’s public address system announced a “Code Black” and explained a severe thunderstorm with tornado potential had moved in. Registers were closed and employees and customers alike were ushered to the back of the store.
“A manager brought back a cart with bottles of water and snacks for the kids and anyone who wanted them,” Yoder said, adding that it was her children’s “most exciting Walmart trip ever.”
Motorists trapped in the storm on area interstates and roadways had to contend with downed trees and power lines and water that rose to the roofs of vehicles in some places.
Police and fire crews were kept busy for hours rescuing stranded motorists from vehicles stalled in high water.
Dozens of roads in the region were closed by the flooding, including a portion of state Route 8 and the Central Interchange in Akron.
At the Mull Avenue Circle in Akron, motorists waited for hours for tow trucks to retrieve water-logged cars.
“Motorists couldn’t tell where the street or the grass started,” said the Rev. James Miller of St. Sebastian Church as he surveyed the damage. “The water stranded eight cars, some had to be pushed off the circle.”
Akron dispatchers said at one point officers and firefighters were responding to as many as 25 reports of cars flooded up to the windows.
Rough rush hour
Days of on-and-off periods of rain were capped by a fast-moving line of storms that dropped more than 2 inches in spots just in time for a Wednesday afternoon rush hour that screeched to a halt.
The heavy rain that fell on Akron streets overwhelmed storm sewers and blew off the manhole covers at North and Howard streets, sending plumes of water as high as 10 feet in the air.
Akron police Lt. Rick Edwards summed up the city’s streets and highways as “a mess” with countless stranded motorists and closed thoroughfares.
Akron’s Forest Lodge Park was flooded with water so high some of the trees were completely underwater.
Akron residents Jesenia Salazar, 22, Hannah Jenkins, 19, and Jessica Thompson, 22, ventured over to the park from their apartments a few blocks away to check out the storm-created pool.
“We thought the water would be just a few inches, but I’m 5-feet-10 and it came up to my neck,” Jenkins said.
“It was very fun but cold,” added Salazar. “So much for the water only coming up to our knees. Boy, were we wrong.”
“I’m the only sane one in the group,” said Steve Simmons, 24, of Akron, who watched his friends venture into the high water.
There were no reports of injuries in the region, but countless homes and cars have been damaged as a result of flooding.
“There was too much rain and the sewers can’t handle it,” Edwards said.
The National Weather Service storm precipitation map showed as much as 3 inches of rain fell along a 20-mile stretch along U.S. 224 from Lodi through east Akron.
At the height of the storms, FirstEnergy reported that as many as 70,000 customers in Northeast Ohio were in the dark. Crews worked through the night to restore power.
Basements fill up
As the rain let up, a new danger emerged for residents — flooded basements.
Fire crews in numerous communities including Akron and Barberton were kept busy responding to calls for help from residents reporting water in their basements and foundations that were weakened.
Basements flooded in Parkway Estates in West Akron, with city crews dispatched to assist residents. Flooding was also reported in the Merriman Valley near Pub Bricco.
Two families were rescued from their homes in the Aurora East neighborhood of Mantua when floodwaters filled the houses, Portage County Sheriff David W. Doak said.
The Sheriff’s Department also had reports of a fire on state Route 82 in the Mantua Township area, possibly related to an oil derrick that was struck by lightning.
“Mantua had a lot of damage,” Doak said, noting a portion of the road through downtown was eroding.
Conditions for cleanup should be better as the National Weather Service is forecasting clear skies through Monday.
“We are hopeful that things are slowly receding,” said Akron Public Service Director John Moore.
The storms brought a bit of good news for Akron officials. The city’s sewer plant didn’t overflow, allowing raw sewage into the Cuyahoga River, which sometimes happens during heavy rains and is the reason for a federal environmental lawsuit against the city.
“We’ve done a lot of work on that plant,” Moore said. “And it’s paying off.”
Two flights at the Akron-Canton Airport were canceled and eight others were delayed because of the bad weather in Akron and destination cities to the east. The canceled flights were an AirTran flight to LaGuardia in New York City and a U.S. Airways flight to Philadelphia.
“We will be back to normal” by this morning, said Kristie Van Auken, the airport’s spokeswoman.
Beacon Journal staff writers Rick Armon, Katie Byard, Marilyn Miller, Jim Mackinnon, Cheryl Powell, Phil Trexler and Stephanie Warsmith contributed to this report..