Sunday, February 20, 2000

Falmouth was prepared this time




BY KRISTINA GOETZ
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FALMOUTH — Falmouth was as ready as a small town can be when the river rose. On Saturday, the Falmouth police station looked like a Pentagon war room. Maps and charts covered the walls. It was all about strategy.

        Unlike the fatal flood of '97, which destroyed much of the town of 2,500, residents were prepared.

FLOOD OF '97
Special section
        “We never expected to do it again this soon,” said Craig Peoples, disaster and emergency services director. “We know what we didn't know to do three years ago.

        “You never get used to it, you just get better at it.”

        Giant wall charts listed everything from street closings to special requests. Every hour or so, fire, police and other officials came to check on the latest National Weather Service report.

        They were prepared for the Licking River to rise to 41 feet by 7 p.m. Saturday — 13 feet above flood stage. It stopped at about 36 feet. But people remembered well what happened when the river hit 52 feet three years ago, and they knew 41 feet wouldn't be good, either. They got out.

        “Once bitten, you're a little leery when the water starts coming up,” said Dave Barnett, coordinator of the emergency operations center. “Pretty much by about 10 o'clock (Friday night), 40 percent of one side of the town had already moved out.

        “Had you been through one and lost everything, wouldn't you be just a little nervous? A lot nervous.”

        At the command post, amateur radio operators helped direct the troops. American Red Cross volunteers set up a shelter at the old middle school but closed it Saturday afternoon. Only one person had to use it. National Guard troops filled sandbags in the parking lot behind Hardees. Sandbags were placed behind the police station and at the water plant to protect the two buildings from the rising water.

        Officials used a map created after the '97 flood to notify residents which streets would flood and when.

        “Anything we knew was 42 feet and below we concentrated on,” Mr. Peoples said. “Now we have flood-response levels.”

        They could zero in on Rigg and Pendleton streets in a way they couldn't in 1997. And the community knows what to watch out for. They moved furniture into their attics or to barns on higher ground.

        “People are just trying to be prepared and get out of the way of the flood,” said Brenda Booher, a Red Cross volunteer. “We didn't want anything like we did last time. What's the Red Cross slogan, "Help can't wait'?

        “Well, help couldn't wait.”

        Jane Prendergast contributed to this report.

       



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