Sunday, February 20, 2000

Falmouth floodwater receding

Ohio River expected to flood slightly

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Licking River floods Falmouth Saturday.
| ZOOM |
        FALMOUTH — The waters of the Licking River were receding and the streets were empty overnight Saturday in Falmouth, but memories of the deadly 1997 flood were everywhere.

        Services would be held as scheduled today, Pastor Terry Parnell said after he and a crew of volunteers finished pumping 2 feet of water from the basement of Glenwood Baptist Church on Main Street around 10:30 p.m.

        But he did wonder if God was trying to make a point.

        For three years, both hard work and nature's caprice kept flood waters away from town. Until this weekend, when heavy rains caused the Licking to rise. Residents and National Guard troops fought back, filling sandbags and emptying houses.

ohio flood stage
        But the city caught a break this time. The river crested earlier than expected and lower than anticipated. Before midnight, the water dropped from 36 feet to 35 feet. The National Weather Service had expected waters by 7 p.m. to reach 41 feet — 13 feet above flood stage.

        Officials at the Ohio River Forecast Center in Wilmington, Ohio, said the Ohio River, at Cincinnati, is expected to crest at either 53 or 54 feet around 1 p.m. Tuesday. Flood stage for the river in Cincinnati is 52 feet. Late Saturday, Hamilton County dispatchers reported no problems in low-lying areas.

        Weather forecasters are calling for no significant rain before Wednesday.

        There were no other reports of rivers approaching flood stage in Southwest Ohio, though a Georgetown woman was rescued from her partially submerged car Saturday after she tried to drive over a flooded portion of Stony Hollow Road. The Ohio State Highway Patrol said deputies and firefighters from Georgetown had to use a boat to rescue her.

        “In the Bible, when God wanted to make a point, he used nature,” Pastor Parnell said. “I wonder what will hap pen if we don't start paying attention.”

        In Falmouth, the Red Cross closed a shelter it opened late Friday at the old middle school. Only one person used it.

        Floodwaters were not expected to reach the heart of downtown, but people were making concessions

        The Woodhead Funeral Home postponed services for Garnetta Ramsey. Downtown bingo was canceled.

        “Things are quiet,” Craig Peoples, director of emergency and disaster services, said. “A lot of people have left town.”

        But they'll be back. Falmouth is a city of survivors.

        They've survived this silent, deadly onslaught before. The waters rise. They ravage the body of this town.

        Yet with each attack, the town redoubles.

        A walk through town tells the story of how far Falmouth has come since the Licking surged over its banks March 1, 1997, submerging 95 percent of downtown Falmouth, killing five people and destroying and damaging hundreds of homes and businesses.

        Up and down most streets now, life thrives.

        On Shelby Street, houses wear fresh coats of paint. Yards are tidy and landscaped. The red bricks of the post office, once covered in mud and grime, put a sturdy face to the town.

        The Nazarene Church on Second Street is bright white, with lights shining inside. The old Kennett Tavern, pushed partly off its foundation three years ago, sparkles now as City Hall. The Federal-style building on Main Street resembles a bed and breakfast, with shining electric candles burning in each window.

        Ronnie Bay's home on State Street, less than 50 yards from the Licking River, was under water up to the roof in 1997. It took the family a year to rebuild. Now the house looks brand new, with fresh blue siding and shiny windows.

Special section
        After three years, residents are still plugging away at recovery.

        A home pummeled in the 1997 flood stands caved in on itself on Water Street, left to rot with time. But other homes on the street are in immaculate shape.

        At the corner of Woodson and Rigg streets, a large, three-story home with boarded windows stands like a lone sentry, guarding the houses that are left.

        Rigg was once a lively street lined with homes. Now it is partly a ghost town. Driveways lead to nowhere. Only a few residents decided to stay.

        Steve Lonaker, 53, is one of them.

        “I still haven't got the place fixed up from last time,” Mr. Lonaker said. “I had 38 inches on my upstairs floor. It pretty well ruined the place, I guess. I had to start over.”

        Throughout most of Falmouth's streets, the memories of the terror and fear from the last flood prompted an exodus Friday night and Saturday, despite no evacuation order.

        Residents packed their belongings into cars and pickup trucks and headed for higher ground. They left behind homes with empty rooms and bare walls. Some even took up their carpet.

        Other nearby residents invited sightseers into their homes for a bite to eat. The blue Ky. 22 bridge toward Brookville was closed because of flooding on the other side of the river.

        The bridge became a congregation point for people to watch the fast-moving water carry debris, including an entire tree, along the river.

        Conversation was more about fear from the 1997 flood still fresh in people's minds than the possibility of a new disaster.

        Throughout Saturday, Pendleton County Judge-executive Henry Bertram monitored the rising water on the Internet.

        He and other county workers moved equipment and machinery out of the county maintenance garage, which had water to the roof last time. It was expected to see several feet of water this time.

        A new shipment of outdoor warning sirens had recently come in and the workers had to move all that equipment out so it wouldn't get ruined.

        “The dog bites you once, it's the dog's fault,” Mr. Bertram said. “The second time, you want to get your act together.”

        Kristina Goetz, Jane Prendergast and Michael Clark contributed to this report.

Falmouth was prepared this time
Residents loyal to flood-prone town

- Falmouth floodwater receding
Falmouth was prepared this time
Residents loyal to flood-prone town
Drag the kids to chat with Charlie Taft
Three politicians, one big stadium mess
We'll all pay for rushing stadium
Readers blame commissioners, voters
Unfair to drug pushers
Central State touts gains since crisis
Enquirer photo staff named state's best
Judicial race turns bitter
Magazine names Berry best of century
Queen City's moments to shine reflected in book
UC sorority suspended over hazing complaints
Problems take back seat to lawmakers' religion obsession
Scanner fans on the same wavelength
Container bill faces long haul
Kunzel, Pops plan explosive TV Fourth
CSO Riverbend schedule
Tennille, Little headline with Pops
Victorian era boasts variety
Flagg Collection complements Taft
H.T. Chen dances are savory blend
Rehabbed Emery would fill gap
Ski for Light inspires 'can do' belief
Strauss, old Vienna enliven Music Hall
Troupe's 'Taming of the Shrew' fun, well-acted, wonderfully new
'2Gether' delightful spoof of boy bands
Dance company director stickler for details
Deerfield parks get gifts
Former Congresswoman relishes political rebirth
Game honors Mason pair
Herbs can aid cancer patients
Man found fatally shot outside Silverton apartment building
New jail may mean a tax hike
Old stagecoach line alive
Research to aid polluted lakes, rivers
State has $1M for character education
To social historian, ray guns not just toys