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Convention center hosting convention one day after flood

Meeting-goers have returned to the Greater Columbus Convention Center on North High Street, one day after the entire first floor was flooded by a water main break. The Longaberger Basket Company's annual sales convention resumed this morning, as officials assessed damages and prepared to repair the building.

Industrial floor dryers run in the corners of the main concourse, drying the last portions of a once-soaked carpet.

But just a few yards away in an exhibit hall, Longaberger's makeshift store shows no signs of damage. Company spokesman Tom Matthews says the scene is much different from a day earlier.

"There was water in here up above your ankles, and in some areas even a little bit deeper," Matthews says. "It was mixed with a little bit of mud that washed in from the outside. We were lifting things up, making getting them off the floor and making sure things dried. There were a lot of people with squeegees and vacuums in here."

Matthews says many of the products and displays in the exhibit hall were destroyed. Once engineers deemed the building safe, employees removed the damaged goods and restocked booths. Dave Foster runs one of those booths, selling novelty foods. His booth is one of the more popular in the store, maybe because it offers free samples of salsa and homemade jam. He too says the scene is remarkably different than 24 hours ago.

"This time yesterday, we didn't feel there was going to be a company store," Foster says. "We were afraid the store was history, but we pulled out of it, put everything together, and we're here for our consultants. "

And the consultants, or home salespeople, are there for Longaberger. Many traveled from across the country for the week-long convention, and remained unsure of plans after the water main break. But Foster says business is good, and the mood is upbeat.

All this is good news for Longaberger, but they're not using the entire building. Gushing water in the center's northwest corner cracked the concrete floor and damaged several walls. Facility director Bill Jennison says there were more 150 people and 700 pieces of equipment involved in the immediate cleanup. But he says there will be more serious, ongoing repairs. "We still need to make sure all the drywall is dry," Jennison says. "If the drywall has been damaged it needs to be cut out. We need to be able to get air into those walls. But those repairs will be ongoing as people come in and out of the building."

Jennison says repairs could take several weeks, and should exceed $200,000. While the convention center will be able to host groups during those repairs, at least one event has been altered. The Athletics Championship organization holds regional cheerleading and dance competitions. Jennison says this weekend's competition has been transferred from the convention center to nearby Batelle Hall.