Deadly Brown County flood and a warning that came too late

Could flood deaths have been prevented? (VIDEO)
(Photo: Jody Barr/FOX19 NOW)
(Photo: Jody Barr/FOX19 NOW)
(Photo: Jody Barr/FOX19 NOW)
(Photo: Jody Barr/FOX19 NOW)
(Photo: Jody Barr/FOX19 NOW)
(Photo: Jody Barr/FOX19 NOW)

BROWN COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - On July 18, Victoria Kennard tucked her children in and went to bed and not a d rop of rain had fallen on her Ripley Road home. Kennard lived along the Red Oak Creek, a creek that flooded twice in the last 55 years.

Kennard did not know the third flood would be the one that would rip her family apart.

At 11: 30 p.m., Kennard and her fiancé, Tony Barrios, woke to the sound of water slamming against their doublewide. Barrios gathered life jackets for his four children as Kennard called 911.

Brown County 911 dispatch records show Kennard's call was answered at 11:32 p.m. Kennard had always stuttered when she was nervous, her brother told FOX19 NOW, and the 911 recording showed that.

In the call, Kennard tried to tell dispatchers what's happening to her home and asked to get help to her and her children. "We're stuck--with kids in the trailer. The flood is up," Kennard tells the dispatcher.

"We tried to get out in time, but it came up too fast."

A couple of minutes into the call, Barrios is heard in the background, yelling for help, "We've got four kids! Somebody please hurry up!"

"We have four kids in the house and I'm pregnant," Kennard tells the dispatcher. "Okay, ma'am, we're trying—we're going to get people out to you, okay," the dispatcher said.

"Okay," is Kennard's final word on the recording. It's at that moment, Barrios told FOX19 NOW, the Red Oak Creek ripped their home apart, killing Kennard, her five year old daughter Rose and her seven year old son Gabe.     

It took 34 minutes for Brown County dispatchers to tone out help to Ripley Road, the 911 call records obtained by FOX19 NOW show. We asked the county for all of the flooding calls that night. The county sent us 1,142 calls.

"We were far beyond our reaches," Brown County 911 Director Beth Nevel told FOX19 NOW, "Everyone was talking on the phone. There was a high level of energy in the room. There was organized chaos."

Dispatch records show Nevel got called in to work 63 minutes after the first 911 caller reported flooding in Georgetown. Nevel is heard on the recordings telling dispatchers she was leaving home and driving straight in to the dispatch center.
A typical Saturday night in the summer, Brown County dispatchers field less than 10 calls an hour, Nevel said. But, on July 18, call volumes climbed to 800 percent of normal capacity, Nevel told FOX19 NOW.

The Kennard call came in at 11:32 p.m. Dispatchers sent an emergency signal to Ripley Fire and EMS units at 12:06 a.m., the county records show. By the time Ripley units knew about the trouble, his entire family had already been swept more than a mile down the Red Oak Creek.

"It was the same type of call that was going on and we had even more imminent life threats going on at the same time," Nevel said. "I truly don't think something was missed, I think it was the volume of calls that we had."

The recordings show dispatchers were sending downtown Georgetown fire and rescue units to Highway 125 at the Georgetown Hill at 10:41 p.m. There were reports that up to six cars were stuck on the hill and were being washed away by the White Oak Creek.

Fire crews spent nearly an hour there working to save the people inside those cars.

The records show dispatchers were fielding calls from multiple people in Georgetown, reporting flooding into basements and yards. None of the calls were life threatening, according to the people making the calls.

The dispatch recordings show a man was being washed away in a pickup truck along Baker Hanselman Road as the rainfall pushed the Straight Creek out of its banks. That call came in to dispatch three minutes after the Kennard call from Ripley. Dispatchers spent several minutes on the phone with that caller, working to gather information from him and to direct rescue crews to him.

The dispatch records show multiple other calls from the Ripley Road area during this time. But, dispatchers never toned out Ripley rescue units until 12:06 a.m. after calls came in that homes were swept away and a teen was hanging onto the back of a house as the flood waters were working to pull her away.

"People have complained, why did it take so long? Could there have simply been a push of a button and a dispatch made at that time when the Kennard call came in," Barr asked Nevel during an Oct. 26 interview.

"Was something missed," Barr asked. "I truly do not think something was missed. I think it was the volume of calls that we had," Nevel replied.

"We were already ramped up the best we could be not having that warning," Nevel said.


At 7:55 p.m., the National Weather Service office in Wilmington issued a flash flood warning for an area to the Southeast of Ripley, NWS records show. There was another warning issued for Southeastern Clinton County, as well.

Both warning areas were on opposite ends of Brown County.

The first Brown County 911 call mentioning flooding was called into the dispatch center at 10:37 p.m. from a caller reporting "a lot of water" along High Street in Georgetown.

The reason for the flooding: a storm blew in from the west, stalled out and kept "regenerating" as it hovered above Georgetown and northern Brown County, National Weather Service Meteorologist Julie Dian-Reed told FOX19 NOW.

The amount of rain that fell from the storm totaled nearly 5 inches, Reed said.

"These are types of rain amounts you don't typically see in such a short period of time in Ohio," Reed said, "Rainfall rates such as that is something that maybe a meteorologist might not see but once in their career.

The NWS-Wilmington office issued a flood warning to Brown County at 11:55 p.m. Brown County received the first 911 call with a report of flooding 46 minutes before.

"Did the National Weather Service miss anything that night," Barr asked Reed, "We always want the warnings to be as timely as possible. We always want to improve upon the warnings and forecasts," Reed said.

"The ramp up time for this storm was so rapid. Very, very uncommon to the Ohio Valley," Reed said. "The tools we have currently, we issued the warning as timely as we possibly could."

Reed said the NWS "typically" issues warnings an hour ahead of the storm, but said forecasters could not see rainfall amounts simply by watching the radar loops from the their offices in Wilmington.

"Fifty-some minutes into it, you see why the county may have an issue with that," Barr asked Reed, "Certainly," Reed replied.

"We're not perfect. We're going to have instances where we could have had more lead time. We want to learn from this event and move on and use this as a learning tool," Reed said.

Beth Nevel and the NWS tell FOX19 NOW they're working on an early warning system in order to better warn people along flood-prone creeks of flash flood events. But, four months after the flood, Reed admitted the NWS still does not have the final answer on exactly what happened with the delay in the warning that night.

Nevel said she's working on upgrading handheld radios for first responders to improve radio communications between dispatch and ground crews.

The NWS is also working to repair a Red Oak Creek rain gauge upstream from the Ripley Road area. The gauge there now is not monitored and no one had access to it the night of the floods, Nevel said.

Nevel said she's now requiring her dispatchers to check the NWS Web site to monitor rain totals at rain gauges along Brown County creeks during storms.

"The warning coming," Barrios told FOX19 NOW, "We could get out, we got a chance to get out—10 minutes early, 10 minutes. We could save those lives.

Today, three crosses stand beside the Kennard and Barrios driveway along Ripley Road. Barrios and his two sons who survived the flood that night have moved into a new home in Ripley, a few miles away from their old Ripley Road address.

Copyright 2015 WXIX. All rights reserved.