Rollin’ on the river
Caesars Indiana expects to lose millions of dollars in revenue this week after closing its riverboat casino and 503-room hotel Friday because of rising Ohio River floodwaters. Unless more rain makes things worse, Caesars hopes to reopen sometime this weekend.
Ed Garruto, the new general manager of the extensive casino-entertainment-hotel complex at Bridgeport on the Ohio, said the casino shut down for only the fourth time since it opened in November of 1998. ‘Our No. 1 concern is public safety,’ Garruto said.
He declined to speculate more specifically on revenue losses but said it would be in the millions. Normally in early January, Caesars could have expected 75,000 customers during the week with 40,000 to 45,000 of them on the weekend alone. But due to the car giveaway planned for last Sunday, they were expecting even bigger numbers, said director of communications Judy Hess. (The car giveaway has been rescheduled for Jan. 23.)
The hotel was booked up Friday, but guests had to leave. It was surrounded by water on three sides. The first floor of the employee parking lot, next to Knob Creek, an always troublesome tributary, was underwater. All the guests and most of the 2,000 employees were gone by 7:30 p.m. Friday. ‘It’s like shutting down a small town,’ said Hess. Only a skeleton staff of required security people remained.
Not everyone who arrived at Caesars Friday realized there was a serious problem. As customers approached the parking area on S.R. 111 ‘ which was threatened in places by high water but not covered ‘ security supervisor Jim Mallory and others told them, ‘We’re closed, due to high water. Sorry for the inconvenience. Here’s a couple of free passes. We’ll buy your lunch next time you come down.’
Tony Sims of Elizabeth, a security officer, said he hated to turn people away. ‘Some of these people are from Nashville and other places. They came up here without any reservations and say, ‘It ain’t rainin’. How come you’re closin’ down?’ ‘
One couple drove in from Georgia for their honeymoon. Sims referred them to several upscale hotels in Louisville.
Garruto told reporters Friday that forecasters were expecting the flood to crest the next day and stay high for several days, perhaps into today. In the meantime, things have changed a bit. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday that the high water mark of 59.2 feet ‘ about six feet above flood stage ‘ was expected early this morning.
On Tuesday, water was approaching but not endangering Mauckport and New Amsterdam. Water covered River Road in two places Monday afternoon. Brent Shaffer of Shaffer’s General Store in New Amsterdam, and Judy Fleace, town clerk of Mauckport, said the river would have to come up much higher before many homes in their towns were threatened.
Shaffer said Sunday that officials were predicting a high of 59 feet. ‘Sixty to 62 feet would be a problem. It would have to be 70 feet to get into the store,’ he said, and no one was predicting that kind of number.
Farther downstream in flood-savvy Old Leavenworth, residents cleaned out cabinets and removed furniture, just in case. They were expecting the water to cover River Road and reach their homes but hoping it would go no higher, at least not as high as the last big flood, in 1997.
They were taking no chances at The Dock seafood restaurant. Owner Johnny Breeden, manager Patty Cole and Wyandotte Corp. employees removed everything, including the bar, Monday afternoon ‘expecting the crest today and more rain this week ‘ and trucked it to higher ground. Dennis Smith of Curby screwed down the big wooden picnic tables on the dock and the large rope railing was removed, ‘so a big log don’t catch it and take half the deck,’ said Brian House, 19, Pilot Nnob Hill, who worked with a crowbar.
In 1997, water reached the gutter on The Dock, said Breeden. ‘It came up fast in ’91, too, but they’re not calling for that this time.’
‘It was a call we hated to make, but we had to do it,’ Breeden said as furniture and kitchen equipment was hauled away in moving vans.
Next door, Peggy Apple had her mobile home taken away by truck as her son, Wayne Apple, removed valuables from his little cabin on the adjoining lot. ‘We’ll be OK,’ said the principal at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School. ‘It’s just part of life on the river.’
A few yards downstream, Bill Baelz, 56, Corydon, relaxed in a lawn swing and watched the river lap at the front yard of his camp. This wasn’t the first time he’s been through an Ohio River flood. His family has owned ‘Camp Dixie II’ for 50 years. (The first Camp Dixie burned in 1985.)
‘It’ll get up, probably two or three (concrete) blocks high ‘ been through it before, eight or nine times in my lifetime,’ he said Monday afternoon. If the screened-in concrete block cabin is flooded, ‘We just go in, hose it all over, soap it out, and hose it again with sanitizer. Then we have to pass inspection from the wives. If we don’t pass inspection, we do it again.’
The last flood, in 1997, was far worse. Then the water rose over the roof of Camp Dixie II and stayed for awhile. Driftwood covered the ground.
‘You go through the routine ‘ wash it out, and go back in … You have to go with the flow.’
Farther away from the river, Charley Chanley, 80, almost went with the flow. His double-wide home on the road to the marina was threatened Saturday by a mudslide from a steep bank behind his house. He was forced to evacuate. Old S.R. 62 was closed to everyone except residents to discourage gawkers. Police were also alert to concerns about looters in the area late at night.
When the decision was made to close Caesars, Hess called Kentucky Harvest and told them they had a load of fresh produce for them to give to homeless shelters.