Monday, March 3, 1997
Floods force thousands
to flee Tristate river towns

3 dead in Ohio; 9 feared dead in Kentucky

Falmouth, Ky., overrun by Licking River

Ohio to crest 10 feet above flood stage here

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Falmouth, Ky., was flooded Sunday afternoon after the Licking River overflowed its banks.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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The worst flooding in decades swamped parts of the Tristate Sunday, forcing thousands to flee as waters enveloped entire towns, leaving only church steeples and rooftops visible.

Raging waters caused as many as 12 deaths in Kentucky and Ohio, and communities Sunday were only beginning to tally the millions of dollars it will cost to replace the homes, businesses, roads and bridges lost to the raging torrents that tore through neighborhoods.

Hardest hit in the Tristate was Falmouth, Ky., where the Licking River leaped its banks and flooded the entire town. Most of the Pendleton County community's 2,400 residents were evacuated in the worst flooding in its history.

''It was unbelievable,'' said Kentucky State Police Trooper Jan Wuchner, who surveyed the damage from a helicopter.

''There is no Falmouth.''

Many communities were cut off by high water and were without utilities and drinking water.

Two of the dead were found in Adams County, Ohio; another in Brown County. Two were thought to have died in Owen County, Ky., after their car was swept away. Seven others drowned elsewhere in Kentucky.

Problems continued into the evening. Late Sunday, authorities evacuated about 100 people living along the Licking in Kenton County.

Houses in downtown Falmouth, Ky., are submerged.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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While the Licking River began to recede Sunday night from a 52-foot crest - 24 feet above flood stage - trouble was only beginning for residents along the Ohio River.

As swollen creeks and streams poured into the Ohio, its levels rose rapidly - nearly a foot an hour between 7 a.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. Sunday. It passed the 52-foot flood stage before midday Sunday and is expected to crest at 63 feet Wednesday afternoon at the Roebling Suspension Bridge, the first above-60-
foot crest since 1967. It was 56.3 feet as of 9:30 p.m.

That could mean a state of emergency in Hamilton County by Tuesday, said Don Maccarone, director of the Hamilton County emergency management office.

''It is not done yet,'' he said.

More than a day of driving, unrelenting rains dropped as much as 12 inches in parts of Kentucky and up to 8 inches in southern Ohio.

In Louisville and Jefferson County, authorities said Sunday that 40,000 homes and businesses had been flooded. Damage was estimated at $51 million.

Gov. Paul Patton declared a state of emergency for the entire commonwealth, but called Falmouth the hardest hit of all.

''I don't know how it could be much worse in Falmouth,'' Mr. Patton said. ''There was total destruction of homes - most homes only had the roof showing.''

A few miles north, most of Butler had been evacuated by 1 p.m. Sunday, said Mr. Wuchner.

Ohio Gov. George Voinovich, on a trade mission to the Far East, declared a state of emergency for the southern counties of Adams, Brown, Gallia, Lawrence and Scioto. Local officials declared their own emergencies for Jackson, Meigs, Monroe, Pike, Ross and Vinton counties in Southeast Ohio.

In Adams County, search crews had accounted for all those reported missing, but efforts will begin this morning near Manchester, where water continued to rise late Sunday, said Paul Howelett, director of the county's Emergency Management Agency.

Many areas of Adams, like several other river counties, are no longer accessible by car or truck, and officials fear some may be trapped by waters now rising in new areas.

Flood victims

The body of Jason Hall, 16, of Blue Creek, was discovered near the confluence of Blue Creek and Churn Creek Saturday. Jefferson Township firefighters think he was swept away while driving an all-terrain vehicle.

The Blue Creek in Adams County, Ohio, overflows near West Union and floods a road.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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About 2:15 a.m. Sunday, rescue crews found the body of Deborah Hetterick, 34, of Felicity. She was with her husband, John, when their car was washed off a bridge in Lawshe, off Ohio 32. The couple clung to a tree for more than an hour before Mrs. Hetterick was swept away, according to the county emergency workers.

Later in the day, search crews in Brown County found the body of a 24-year-old man. He had been visiting a friend's house near Eagle Creek in Brown County, when he was swept away by a flash flood, the Associated Press reported. His identity was not released.

The rains that ravaged the Tristate were part of a series of violent weekend storms that cut a swath of destruction through several states. Tornadoes killed 24 people in Arkansas; floods killed three in Tennessee and one in Mississippi.

In Hamilton County, four people had to be helped from the roof of an Anderson Township home Sunday night by fire officials. They had been stranded on the roof of a home at 50 Sumter Parkway since about 9 p.m. before being rescued about 90 minutes later, authorities said.

In Adams County, a Newman Road family spent almost eight hours waiting for rescue Saturday from atop a high bridge - the only exposed ground in sight. While they waited, they watched flood waters batter their mobile home, shifting it back and forth.

Rescue arrived aboard a Jet Ski.

Tom Partin, an Adams County real estate agent, made six trips to the bridge to carry away the six people trapped there.

''The current knocked the guy on the Jet Ski over twice. I was really scared to put the kids on them,'' said Barrett Deskins, 25.

''But the kids were screaming and panicking. If we didn't get out then, we wouldn't be here now.''

Many people were cut off from their homes and loved ones by washed out roads and downed telephone lines. David Chambers, 29, spent much of Sunday afternoon worrying about his girlfriend. At any time, he said, she is due to give birth.

Mr. Chambers, who lives on State Route 348 outside of West Union, said his girlfriend was at his parents' home. But, he had no way to get to her or a hospital should she go into labor.

Rescues continue

Roads were also washed out in Scioto County, where about 200 homes had major damage from flooding, said Kim Campbell, director of the Emergency Management office in Scioto.

''Right now damages to private homes and business total about $10 million,'' Mrs. Campbell said. ''We expect the total damage to reach about $15 million when we assess the damage to the total infrastructure.''

Late Sunday afternoon, she said rescuers were still pulling people off rooftops.

''We have a Coast Guard chopper flown in from Cape Cod for major rescue services,'' she said. Units were also dispatched from the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Army National Guard, the Department of Water Resources, along with divers from the Hamilton County Rescue unit.

The American Red Cross is assisting victims in Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky.

Meanwhile, businesses along the Ohio River were seeing the effects of rising waters on Sunday.

Most restaurants dotting the Kentucky side of the Ohio River across from Downtown Cincinnati were closed Sunday night. Up and down the Ohio, other businesses were finding themselves under water.

The high water also affected one of the area's newest industries: riverboat gambling in Southeastern Indiana. But flood waters didn't force their shutdown; it only curtailed their cruising.

Laura Goldberg, Allen Howard, Ben L. Kaufman, Jane Prendergast and Christine Wolff contributed to this report.