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Amid flood, fire crews tow free-floating boats from Smith Mountain Lake

Published: Nov. 13, 2020 at 1:52 AM EST
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BRIDGEWATER MARINA, Va. (WDBJ) - Just after 6 p.m. Thursday, Smith Mountain Lake Marine Fire Crews spotted another one - a pontoon boat floating free of its dock. Crews leapt into action as they had all day. One man on the radio, calling in information from the dock; a team on the water, moving a fire and rescue boat into position to deal with the wayward pontoon.

That scene was just one of many that played out on the Lake Thursday, as historic flooding floated boats and tore up docks.

“It’s been a long day,” said Smith Mountain Lake Marine Fire Company Chief Todd Ohlerich.

Ohlerich spent his day on the water, piloting the fire and rescue boat. His goal: get to free-floating boats before they damage themselves, or their surroundings.

“We were able to help retrieve those, or return them to their owners' dock or somewhere nearby,” he said.

That included about a dozen boats that had floated out into the middle of the lake itself - one with jet ski, dock, and patio furniture still attached.

“That’s what we’re here to do is to help out the community when they need it, and this is one of those times,” said Ohlerich.

The problems Thursday were prompted by the highest water levels Smith Mountain Lake has seen since 1987. The water, projected to crest at four feet above normal, didn’t just float boats out of slips, but threatened to crush others into the roof of their docks.

“It is just an enormous amount of water," said Travis Lively, one of dozens of boat and dock owners who had to scramble before lake rose further.

“I had my Gore Tex suit on, I had my muck boots, and I made sure to bring my life jacket and my head lamp, so just in case I did fall in I’d be safe,” he said.

But many boats weren’t tended to Thursday. Chief Todd Ohlerich says that’s why his teams will be on standby all night - and are preparing for another busy day when the sun rises tomorrow.

“I think the biggest call volume will probably be tomorrow morning when everybody wakes up,” he said.

Chief Ohlerich also asks anyone on the water to treat the entire lake as a no-wake zone. Any waves could float more boats, or damage docks and other structures along the shore line.

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