Monday, March 3, 1997
More rain to push Ohio higher
Forecast: River to reach highest level since 1964

BY LISA DONOVAN,
LAURA GOLDBERG
and KYM LIEBLER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Greater Cincinnati is bracing for its worst flooding in 33 years today, as the rain-swollen Ohio River continues to charge past its banks.

From downtown to the city's eastern suburbs Sunday, life was disrupted for residents, merchants and commuters. Roads were closed, hundreds evacuated and emergency shelters opened. Residents rushed to take treasured belongings to higher ground as the mighty Ohio topped its flood stage.

In New Palestine in eastern Clermont County, Norma Taylor hauled a TV, VCR, furniture and family photos to the second floor of her home that sits at the lip of the Ohio River. Suitcases also were packed - ready for a quick departure.

''I just don't want to live in the water for a day,'' she said.

Flood stage for the Ohio at Cincinnati is 52 feet. Late Sunday, forecasters at the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio, predicted it would crest at 63 feet Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday's expected crest would be the highest since March 11, 1964, when it reached 66.2 feet, officials said.

But meteorologists and public officials will be watching the sky today: Significant rainfall - as much as a half-inch - is expected in the already-saturated counties east of Cincinnati. If that happens, tributaries of the Ohio River will send even more water toward Cincinnati.

''The rain has nowhere to go at this point except the rivers. The ground is as wet as it's going to be,'' said Ryan Sandler, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. ''Any rain upriver affects us.''

Weather observers were stunned Sunday by the Ohio River's sudden rise, which came after torrential rains pummeled parts of the Tristate on Saturday.

From 7 a.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday, the Ohio River downtown more than 19 feet - from 33.2 feet to 52.3 feet. It was at 56.3 feet at 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

''It's the highest I've ever seen it,'' said George Courlas of Amelia, one of dozens drawn to Bicentennial Commons to watch the river.

The fury of the fast-moving Ohio could be seen in many places - water covered the Serpentine Wall, the Schmidt ball fields on Kellogg Avenue and the Coney Island amusement park; businesses along Pete Rose Way pumped water from basements; and police erected detour signs on numerous streets.

''We're just trying to hold out,'' said Jeff Sepate, co-manager of the Cincinnati Recreation Rowing and Fitness Center in the basement of the Montgomery Inn Boathouse Restaurant on Kellogg Avenue.

He and 10 others were filling burlap bags and stacking them around the base of the restaurant and fitness center. As water lapped within 20 feet of them, the workers knew flooding was inevitable.

''All we're trying to do is prolong it,'' Mr. Sepate said. ''We'll be here all through the night.''

Farther east of Cincinnati, the scene worsened late Sunday. Residents in the small hamlets in eastern Clermont County and western Brown County prepared for the river to lap at homes and property.

In New Palestine, Paul Boehm, 72, was placing sandbags around his home. He seemed unworried about the rising water.

''I'm not really too concerned about this,'' he said, saying he's used to the river spilling over into his back yard.

The mood was not as nonchalant in New Richmond. At the River Pines RV Park off U.S. 52, tow trucks were pulling mobile homes and campers from the river's edge. By midnight, much of the 35 acres was under water.

After wary village officials huddled in an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon, authorities ordered evacuations, asked that businesses on Front Street close and began shutting down streets.

At the gymnasium of New Richmond High School, Red Cross officials were setting up cots and pulling out blankets. They anticipated 50 people would crowd the gym by early this morning.

Beth Nevel, fire chief in Clermont County's Washington Township, urged residents to take the situation seriously. ''This is not a predictable flood - so much rain in such a short time.''