Two rescued from floodwaters, treated for hypothermia; dozens drive around barricades

 

A pair of pedestrians were swept away by rushing floodwaters and had to be rescued as they were clinging to trees along Township Road on Friday night. 

Jonathan Austin, 20, and 13-year-old Casey Westmoreland were attempting to walk back home on Township Road, just past George Boutwell Road, when they were swept away by the water, relative Nathan Burkhart said. 

The pair had been in the water for more than an hour when they were rescued, then taken to South Central Regional Medical Center to be treated for hypothermia. An unidentified resident used his boat to assist volunteer firefighters with the rescue after he heard it would take a while for a fire department boat to get to the scene. 

Firefighters also had to rescue another would-be rescuer who used his kayak to try to get Austin and Westmoreland. The kayaker also became stranded while trying to help. He did not require medical treatment. 

“They’re a God-send,” Burkhart said of the volunteers. “Thank you for everyone that came out. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what would have happened.” 

Burkhart is the one who called 911 when he “saw them hanging on to the trees.” 

Austin and Westmoreland — Burkhart’s brother and stepson, respectively — had gone to McDonald’s to eat earlier and the road had been OK, Burkhart said. But when they returned, they were unable to make it home because of flooding at the intersection of Township and George Boutwell roads. 

So the two left their vehicle and attempted to walk home through the water, which was rushing across the road. They were overcome and swept off the roadway into the woods, but they were able to grab onto a tree and hang on for more than an hour in the cold, swift water. 

Volunteers from Glade, Powers and M&M responded and assisted with the rescue. 

Burkhart was grateful for their efforts. 

“They showed up and saved them,” he said. 

Volunteers from Calhoun, Pleasant Ridge and Southwest went to 60 Williams Pruitt Road to rescue an elderly woman from her residence on Tuesday afternoon. They had to use a boat to access the residence, and once they reached it, they found a residence that was occupied by several people who had no phone to call for help. 

Volunteers wound up rescuing 13 people — 10 adults and three children — and two dogs. The children were reunited with their parents, who had not been at the residence. No injuries were reported. 

Glade and Powers volunteers rescued five adults, four dogs and two cats from a resident at 118 Triangle Drive, where only the tops of street signs were visible by the time they pulled out. Shady Grove and Sharon volunteers rescued several residents on Cedarbook Road, Windsor Court and Old Highway 15 North. Calhoun volunteers rescued a motorist who was overcome by floodwater on Flynt Road Friday morning. And Rustin and Sandersville volunteers rescued motorists who crashed after a bridge on Pine Grove Road washed out. 

Dozens more people were rescued from their homes and vehicles, many after driving around barricades. The Powers VFD high-water rescue vehicle was used to go get many of the stranded motorists. An Alabama man went around a barricade on the Highway 84 end of Magnolia Road and drowned out his cousin’s pickup. He was one of at least three people who had to be rescued at the same spot. 

Sandersville Police Department Assistant Chief Scott Gable wrote tickets to 16 motorists who went around barricades at East Main Street leading to Pleasant Grove Road on Friday and Saturday. The department issued around 30 citations in all, he said. 

“I was just trying to help out with getting the road open and keeping people safe,” said Gable, who is also a longtime volunteer firefighter. 

Roads and bridges were washed out under the high water at many locations, which could have led to disaster for motorists and their would-be rescuers. That was a source of frustration for many first-responders. 

Officials with the Jones County Emergency Operations Center and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency were still working to get a complete assessment of the damage to roads, bridges and residences. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a State of Emergency for Jones, Jasper, Wayne, Covington, Forrest, Perry and Clarke counties. 

“This will allow state assistance to get to the affected areas in a quick and efficient manner,” Bryant tweeted. 

Jones County EOC director Paul Sheffield said that the rain gauge at the downtown Laurel office showed 10.82 inches of rain and unofficial totals of 11.75 inches and 11 inches were recorded in Glade and Sandersville, respectively. One Sandersville woman showed a total of 16.3 inches on Facebook. 

“We received almost a foot of rain in less than 12 hours,” Sheffield said. 

And there’s nowhere for that much rain to go, so there was flooding in all of the locations that usually flood in Jones County, plus many more. Water rushed across Highway 11 just inside the Sandersville city limits for a while, then flowed down to Highway 84 East on Friday, causing both lanes of the highway to be shut down between Magnolia Road and Masonite Lake Road for about 24 hours. That night and Saturday, water was rushing across Lower Myrick Road in the flats, causing it to be closed down near David’s Grocery. For much of the time, Myrick was cut off from Laurel unless motorists took a long, circuitous, alternate route through backroads to Highway 11 North. 

The damage was significant, so state agencies will be working “to determine if we can get some type of federal-level assistance into the area to assist with the results of this disaster,” Sheffield said.

— PIO Dana Bumgardner of the Jones County Fire Council contributed

 


 

FLOODING BY THE NUMBERS

  • 144 ROADWAYS IN THE COUNTY WERE AFFECTED BY FLOODING AND/OR WASHOUT AT SOME POINT
  • 79 HOMES DAMAGED BY STORM, MOST BY FLOOD BUT A FEW BY DOWNED TREES AND LIMBS
  • 30 HIGH-WATER RESCUES FROM RESIDENCES AND VEHICLES WERE PERFORMED BY LOCAL OFFICIALS
  • 11.75 INCHES OF RAIN, ACCORDING TO ONE GAUGE IN GLADE ON THURSDAY EVENING TO FRIDAY MORNING

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