Monday, March 3, 1997
When home is gone,
friends are needed


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH, Ky. - The town, as far as you can see, is under dirty, brown water. McDonald's golden arches are just half moons. There's an IGA sign but no grocery, a Shell sign but no station.

Not to mention the houses.

Susan Field, who lives on Rigg Street, shivers under a dingy orange blanket, huddled in the lobby of Pendleton County High School. She and her three boys have been here since about 2 a.m. Sunday. After a night on hard red plastic chairs, they ate cheese crackers from a vending machine for breakfast.

Brad Field, 12, has put his watch and Swiss army knife on a window sill to dry. Everything else was left behind when the pickup truck with volunteers from the fire department swooped in and told them to get in ''right now.''

It happened so fast.

Anita England left home with her three dogs and as many blankets as she could grab. Her car hit a wall of water and stalled. ''The next thing I know I'm grabbing dogs and climbing into a truck,'' she says, shaking a soggy shoe.

Cars drive through the school parking lot, searching, ''looking for kin.'' Families have been separated. Phones are out. The victims are scattered. The Red Cross has set up a shelter at Southside Christian Church on U.S. 27, south of town. There's another, farther down, at Plum Street Christian Church.

Several people evacuated from their homes Saturday were taken to the Falmouth Middle School, now surrounded by water.

Angela Gillispie keeps asking if anybody has heard anything about her fiance. ''I haven't seen him since 2 a.m. He gave me his wallet and started swimming. His mom has rheumatoid arthritis and he was afraid they wouldn't get to her.''

In the school gymnasium, four kids shoot hoops as patients from River Valley Nursing Home in Butler are carried in.

The elderly people are taken to the school library, where a desk is moved aside for a portable oxygen tank.

Nurses and volunteers stack their purses on a table. No one stands guard. No one needs to.

Who's in charge?

Outside, Army reservists in camouflage load blankets, food and water onto a flatbed truck carrying a boat. The supplies were brought in Sunday by St. Luke Hospitals. University of Cincinnati's Air Care chopper arrived earlier with a doctor and nurse.

No one is in charge. And, apparently, no one needs to be.

Everyone finds something to do. Gil Kavanaugh, the custodian, is getting an extension cord for the makeshift geriatric center. He looks baffled when I ask why he's there. ''I just thought people might need something.''

Nancy Von Rotz, the Air Care flight nurse, left her Lebanon home Sunday morning and shivers in a pale gray windbreaker, buffeted by the updraft from the WEBN helicopter dropping off a box of food. She says she'll stay, of course, ''for as long as they need me.''

Gene Hanna, 14 , who lives in Falmouth but ''way above water,'' helps a woman carrying a little boy with big eyes and a purple pacifier. A batch of fried chicken is dropped off. Chocolate cream pie, a lot of it, appears.

Down by the river, a yellow police tape stops traffic right at Godman's Garage, just before the bridge over the south fork of the Licking River. The rain has stopped, but the river continues to rise.

Why, I wonder, do we worry every winter about a few snowflakes? Rain is more dangerous here, always has been. Last weekend, puddles became roiling ponds. Lakes dotted open fields and subdivisions. Falmouth was nearly washed away.

Nature at its worst.

People at their best.