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City Agencies, MSD Brief Public On Flash Flooding Response, Including Plans For Improved Warnings

Louisville Metro Emergency Services, Louisville Fire Department (LFD) and Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) officials provided a briefing today about the city’s response to a 2-hour flash flooding event on Saturday, Sept. 8, including steps being taken to better educate the public about the dangers of flash flooding and to provide more warning for high-water incidents.

Louisville Metro Public Services Chief Doug Hamilton conveyed the city’s condolences to the family and friends of Abdinasir Siyat, a local taxi driver who drowned that night after driving his car into a flooded viaduct at 13th Street and West Oak.

“This is a tragedy, and we’re all saddened by Mr. Siyat’s death,” Chief Hamilton said, adding that some details of that incident cannot be released until a Louisville Metro Police Department death investigation is complete, in approximately 90 days.

Timeline of event

  • Jody Meiman, executive director for Emergency Services, said the first call to MetroSafe 911 about Mr. Siyat came at 8:44 p.m. on Sept. 8 from his employer, Yellow Cab, which said he needed help, but was unable to provide his location. MetroSafe took Mr. Siyat’s number from Yellow Cab and unsuccessfully attempted to call him twice.
  • Siyat called 911 himself, at 8:46 p.m., and told the dispatcher that he was at Dixie and Oak streets. MetroSafe dispatched Louisville Fire to Dixie and Oak; they arrived at 8:54 p.m. but found no one.
  • At that same time, a passing motorist called to report a vehicle in the water at 13th and Oak. LFD was dispatched to that location, arriving at 8:56 p.m. to find a vehicle fully submerged. A swift water team entered the water at 9 p.m. but was unable to access the vehicle, and reported they could find no victims. They were cleared from the scene and sent to other rescue calls.
  • Siyat was found unresponsive in his car at 10:47 p.m., after the floodwaters had receded.

Early weather reports for that weekend predicted a total of 2 to 3 inches of rain, which generally isn’t a problem for Louisville’s sewer system to handle, said MSD Operations Chief Brian Bingham. But the storm was worse than predicted and produced a record rainfall for the date – with variations throughout the county for the four-day period ending on Sept 9, from 2.36 inches in some parts to 7.91 inches in others.

Noting the unpredictability of such storms, Chief Hamilton reminded the public today of the need to take precautions around flood waters, as intense rain events can very quickly inundate an area, and not to attempt to drive through floodwaters.

In all, Louisville Fire and Suburban Fire responded to 72 water rescue calls during the two-hour rain event, including many individuals who drove into standing water and, in some cases, around barriers.

Director Meiman noted that he and his staff were in contact with the National Weather Service (NWS) throughout the day on Sept. 8 — and based on those conversations, were expecting 2-3 inches of rain through the next day. When the rain began to intensify, and Emergency Management began getting real-time impacts of the storm from the NWS and MetroSafe, officials opened the city’s Emergency Operations Center to a Level 1, which involves personnel monitoring the situation, and assisting with potential needs of agencies involved in the event. Key city officials are alerted to Level 1 status by text, which initiates a chain of communication among senior leadership, including the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

The decision to put the EOC on Level 1 status was made at 8:18 p.m.; the EOC was closed at 11:30 p.m., once the storm had subsided. MetroSafe was staffed throughout the event with 18 dispatchers, 10 call takers and two supervisors. MetroSafe has a combined communications system that allows personnel to see county-wide impact of any event, including agencies that are not dispatched by the city.

Next Steps

Louisville Emergency Management Services has for months been sharing a NWS video that emphasizes, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown,” but Chief Hamilton and Director Meiman agreed that the number of high-water rescues from Sept. 8 indicate that additional public education is necessary.  “When you have residents knowingly drive into standing water, including people who take down barriers to do so, it is clear the dangers have not been adequately conveyed,” Chief Hamilton said.

Chief Hamilton said city responders also have met and will continue meeting to review potential changes to keep the community safe during these increasingly severe natural disasters. For example:

  • The city’s Public Works’ Road division is working with MSD to identify the potential standing water depth in each of 32 viaducts in our community and then paint visible marks on each, as an additional warning to keep people from driving through during a heavy rain event.
  • The city will use data from MSD, the National Weather Service, Louisville Fire and MetroSafe to project potential dangerous water conditions in the steepest and deepest viaducts and establish a mechanism to trigger visible warning lights to avoid entering flooded areas.

“Public safety is our No. 1 priority, and we work on a continuous improvement model,” Chief Hamilton said. “That means we will continue to review such incidents closely to see if there are additional steps we can take to further keep our community safe.”

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