Monday, March 3, 1997
'There is no Falmouth'
Town is hit hardest; 2,000 residents affected

BY JANE PRENDERGAST
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - The muddy water of the Licking River left hundreds of people homeless Sunday in this small city described by the governor as the hardest hit in the commonwealth.

As many as 2,000 residents will be directly affected by the flooding, said Rick Watkins, area coordinator for state disaster emergency services. That is two-thirds of the approximately 3,000 people who live in the cities of Butler and Falmouth alone.

An estimate on damages, he said, was ''many days'' away.

Four hundred people, plus at least three dogs and a parakeet, were being housed in makeshift shelters in four churches and at Pendleton County High School. With telephones out and cellular phones sometimes disabled because of flooded cables, amateur radio operators were the only communicators.

Gov. Paul Patton, flown in by Army pilots in a Blackhawk helicopter, spent about an hour with emergency workers in Falmouth. He was overwhelmed by the devastation.

''I don't know how it could be much worse in Falmouth,'' he said. ''There was total destruction of homes. Most homes only had the roof showing. This is a town with no water, no telephone and no electric service.''

Kentucky State Police Trooper Jan Wuchner flew over the drenched areas Sunday afternoon in a helicopter and was equally stunned.

''It was unbelievable,'' he said later. ''There is no Falmouth.''

Meeting basic needs

The governor promised that he would involve the federal government to help.

''We must assess the damage throughout the state,'' he said. ''There are a lot of smaller communities up and down the river that will have damage. We will continue to monitor and profide relief as we can. Our first job is to make sure people are warm, dry and have food and water.''

The Falmouth home of Patrick and Laurie Bass was among the total losses. Its two stories were completely under water by Sunday morning, one day after the couple marked three months of living on Pendleton Street. Mr. Bass, 29, tried to reach it by canoe at about 1:30 a.m., but the muddy water was rushing too fast. He could hear the water smack into the Rite Aid store and smash in the windows.

Concert T-shirts

Married 18 months, the Basses left their house Saturday evening and headed into Cincinnati to catch country singer George Strait's concert at Riverfront Coliseum. Both bought concert T-shirts, not knowing the shirts would quickly become their only clean clothes.

''That's all we ended up with - George Strait T-shirts and our jeans,'' Mr. Bass said.

He and Mrs. Bass, who is 19 and two months' pregnant, were not certain where they would spend Sunday night. Several friends had offered their homes. But Mrs. Bass worried about reaching some of them on the back roads of Pendleton County after dark.

Mr. Watkins opened the emergency command post at about 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Bedford House retirement center was among the first to be evacuated, with its residents taken to the Southside Baptist Church.

At the high school shelter, dozens of people streamed in to check lists of evacuees' whereabouts. One man was still looking for his 11-year-old son as night fell. The Falmouth boy, Dale Gooden, had stayed overnight with a friend in Butler and had not been seen since Saturday.

Jeff and Lori Teegarden came to the command post headquarters at St. Luke Hospital's Care Center looking for her 90-year-old grandmother, Jesse, who lives at the Bedford House. They were assured that all the residents were being well taken care of.

''They could have probably done without that kind of excitement,'' Mr. Teegarden said of the elderly people.