Sunday, February 20, 2000

Residents loyal to flood-prone town




BY KRISTINA GOETZ
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FALMOUTH — It's home. That's the reason folks in Falmouth give in answer to the question: Why don't those people just leave? Even the threat of another major flood Saturday didn't budge residents.

FLOOD OF '97
Downtown
March 2, 1997: Falmouth, Ky., was buried under the muddy water of the Licking River.
| ZOOM |
        “Would you want to move someplace else?” Craig Peoples, disaster and emergency services coordinator, asked. “This is where they grew up, their kids, their grandkids.

        “It's family.”

        It's the K&T Diner on Shelby Street, too, and the county courthouse that still doesn't need a fancy security system.

        It's Ruby's beauty shop that's been next to the police station for the last 14 years and, on Saturday, where a group of women reminisced about the '97 Flood. One woman's husband had suggested — as they sat on their empty living room floor waiting out the flood — that getting her hair done might make her feel better.

        They couldn't imagine leaving.

        “My mother lost everything in '97,” said Sue Westbrook as a stylist worked on her hair. “Last time she lost everything but her car. But she fixed it back up and moved back in.

        “She wouldn't leave Falmouth for nothin', I don't guess. I can't imagine her not in Falmouth, can you, Dorothy?”

        A few blocks away, Tom Purdy and his wife, Mae, sat on their couch Saturday afternoon and waited. Mr. Purdy talked about the flood in 1937, when he was 7 years old and helped his grandmother move out of her Rigg Street home. And he talked about the same house, that was covered with water in the flood of 1964.

        His family had moved from that home before 1997 to one on Barkley where he now lives. The Rigg Street house washed away with the last flood.

        “It went under the railroad bridge,” Mr. Purdy said.

        Still, leaving Falmouth was not an option.

        “The only way I'll ever leave is if the flood takes this house out of here,” he said. “I just don't want to. All my family has been here as far back as you can go in Falmouth.”

        Others say it isn't about their roots. It's tough to sell a house nobody wants to buy. Even Mrs. Purdy agrees leaving is not an option.

        “We're too old to move,” she said. “We're just kind of trapped here.”

        Juanita Hughes, who lives on South Liberty Street, said, “I know why we stayed. That's all we had. We had a mortgage and you've got to fix what you've got.”

        This time, they had flood insurance.

        Steve Lonaker, who lives on Rigg Street, one of the worst-hit areas in the '97 Flood, said he still hasn't recovered from the last flood. He won't leave, either.

        “I own the place,” he said. “Hell, I'm just too old to start over again.

        “You just have to take it as you go. It's sad. I didn't want to go through it again but I'm going to have to, I guess.”

        He, too, had flood insurance this time. And he'll cross his fingers that it doesn't happen again.

        “And pray to the Lord,” he said with his hands folded, looking up to the gray, dismal sky.

        Jane Prendergast contributed to this report.



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