Friday, July 20, 2001

Flooding recedes, revealing despair

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As Tristate residents pumped water from their homes and businesses, hosed mud off belongings and turned to the American Red Cross on Thursday following deadly flash floods, state and federal officials called for disaster assistance.

        From Columbus, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft declared a state of emergency for Hamilton, Butler and Clermont counties.

        In Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Rob Portman urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration to speed up help.

[photo] Mary Nugent was among hundreds faced with nasty cleanup jobs after flash floods.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Three people died as creeks and tributaries crashed over their banks overnight Tuesday. As much as 8 inches of rain fell amid more than 10,000 lightning strikes as a series of storms collided over the region.

        Damage estimates are not available, but the governor's proclamation authorizes state agencies to take any action necessary to help local authorities with cleanup. Mr. Taft plans to tour the flood-damaged areas today.friday

        Renee Bohlen of Fairfax said the loss cannot be calculated.

        “We watch the river rise,” she said, “We haul out damaged furniture, clean out basements and life goes on.

        “Except this time it didn't go on because two people died.” Her neighbor Ronald Davenport, 48, and his daughter, Anna Davenport, 21, who were killed when water from Little Duck Creek roared into their basement.

        Also killed early Wednesday was Monica Kuchmar, 16, of Blue Ash, who would have been a Sycamore High senior this fall.

        She was swept away by rushing water after escaping a stalled vehicle in Symmes Township. The three friends with her were unhurt. Wednesday, her body was recovered from the Little Miami River,

        On Thursday, hundreds gathered at Weil Funeral Home in Symmes Township to mourn the loss. The daughter of Russian immigrants, she was known for her lively smile and willingness to help others.

        “She cared for others more than she cared for herself. This whole thing (happened) from her giving in times when she was not even called,” said Rabbi Sholom Kalmanson of the Chabad of Southern Ohio.

        “My thoughts are with the families of the three Ohioans whose lives were taken by the flooding,” Mr. Taft said in a statement.

        The state will work to make sure flood victims “receive the assistance to recover and rebuild,” he added.

        Mr. Portman, a Terrace Park Republican, said “many residents are going to need help getting back on their feet. I am working with federal, state and local authorities to see that federal assistance can be made available as soon as possible.”

        His district includes some of the worst-hit areas. Typically, federal assistance comes from FEMA and the Small Business Administration, which offers low-interest loans.

        The American Red Cross said at least 464 homes were affected by flooding and it served 550 meals to victims. Both numbers are certain to rise, communication director Ashley Young said Thursday.

"It's just widespread'
        For now, the rain has stopped. The flooding has receded. Only mud, debris and growing frustration remain.

        “They say God only gives you as much as you can handle,” said Mary Nugent, 58, of Fairfax, also a Davenport neighbor.

        In Butler County, hundreds of homes were affected. Of the more than 100 homes damaged in the city of Hamilton alone, 32 families were displaced from the Brook Hollow Apartments.

        Butler and Hamilton counties each declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. Clermont County is expected to follow today.

        “It's just widespread,” William Turner, Butler County emergency management director, said of damage there. “Every township and village in the county has damage. And I think a lot of people are waking up to the realization that they have homeowners insurance, but not flood insurance.”

        For families and emergency officials throughout the region, Thursday was a day of establishing priorities of who needs how much help, and how quickly.

        Perspective also reigned in Blue Ash and Fairfax.

        Leslie Reiss, a neighbor and friend of the Kuchmar family, said Monica was “everyone's helping hand. She touched a lot of souls. I have to believe God chose her because she was so good,” Mrs. Reiss said.

        But the inherent danger of flash flooding is in its swiftness and unpredictability.

        “With flash floods, it happens so quickly. You don't have time to save important things,” said Jean Ellsworth, a disaster mental health officer for the Red Cross. “Talking about it will help relieve stress.”

        Her advice to flood victims: “Take some time off. Do something you enjoy. Because the physical work after a flood is horrendous. Go out to eat, go for a walk. Get away from it.”

        Her voice slowed: “Adults are telling kids, "It's OK, it's OK,' but kids see the frustration. Be patient with children.”

        And each other.

Wiping away mud
        Staffers and volunteers spent Thursday cleaning up the historic village in Sharon Woods where the Haner House, which holds the administrative offices of the Heritage Village Museum, had 9 feet of water in its basement. Supplies and some items dating to the mid-19th century were damaged or destroyed.

[photo] Julie Bishop wonders where to start on cleaning up a flooded basement at Heritage Village in Sharon Woods. Officials expect to reopen Saturday.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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        “This is definitely the building that got the most damage,” said Jon Scharf, the village's executive director. “We're trying to save what we can and clean it up.”

        The flood did not damage valuable displays or collections stored on other floors of the building.

        Caked in mud and sweat, volunteers and museum staffers scrubbed furniture, building materials and supplies. Clothes that were stored in the basement hung on a fence to dry.

        Maggie and Katie Sullivan, 14 and 15 respectively, showed up at the village about noon to volunteer for the cleanup. They helped hose off chairs brought up from the basement.

        “The stuff coming up is really disgusting,” Katie said.

        The sisters, members of American Heritage Girls, just wanted to help the village.

        The Haner House remains without electricity and phone service, Mr. Scharf said. Damage could exceed $12,000, but the village has insurance.

        The museum, which is made up of about a dozen historic buildings, will remain closed today but is expected reopen for a craft show Saturday, officials said.

        In Fairfax, Pauline Wilson had worked tirelessly cleaning the basement of her house since Wednesday morning.

        By Thursday afternoon, she almost had everything done. She credited neighbors and family members, saying it would have “taken forever” without their help.

        But the floors are only half of what she has to clean. Most of her family pictures were lost in the flood. They had been stored in the basement. She had been working to save the pictures by soaking them in water and freezing them.

        “I've got three bags of them in the freezer. It's stuff you don't want to lose,” Mrs. Wilson said. “There's a lot of memories.”

       Kevin Aldridge, Allen Howard, Amanda York, David Eck and Susan Vela of the Enquirer contributed to this report.


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