Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Flooding recedes, clean-up begins

Butler County seeks disaster declaration

By Steve Kemme, The Cincinnati Enquirer
and Sue Kiesewetter, Enquirer contributor

Harold Holloway (L) and Rick Pennington move some of Holloway's vinyl siding from a standing pool of flood water along Warrick Road in St Clair Twp.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
HAMILTON - Thousands of Butler County residents returned to water-logged, muddy homes Monday to begin cleaning up and tallying losses, while authorities tried to assess the full impact of the heavy weekend rains that flooded homes, roads and fields.

Butler County commissioners Monday asked state authorities to declare the county a disaster area. Meanwhile, there were concerns about forecasts of more rain this week.

There's a 50 percent chance of rain today and a 30 percent chance on Wednesday and Thursday, according to the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

"It should stay dry from Thursday night through Sunday," said meteorologist Don Hughes.In Milford Township, Cindy Stephenson sprayed inches of mud from her sidewalks and driveway Monday.

"That field was like a river flowing," she said, pointing toward a wheat field across Hamilton-Eaton Road. "The sad thing is we just had a flood two years ago. We had to gut it out the last time, and everything is ruined again."

William Turner, director of the Butler County Emergency Management Agency, said that in some ways, this flood was as bad for Butler County as Greater Cincinnati's devastating flash floods in mid-July of 2001, which claimed three lives in Hamilton County. However, there were no injuries reported from this weekend's flooding.

"We probably have as many homes damaged in this one as we did two years ago," he said. "But we don't have as much damage to the roads, bridges and culverts."

After touring some of the hardest hit areas in northwest Butler County, Turner said the damage might not be severe enough for the county to qualify for state and federal funding.

"A lot of the damage is just basement flooding," he said. "That's not structural damage. That's the big issue right now in trying to get state and federal assistance."

A state disaster designation would allow the county to try to qualify for low-interest U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for uninsured homeowners. Homeowners not qualifying for SBA loans would be able to apply for Ohio's individual assistance grants.

But to qualify for the SBA loan program, Butler must find at least 25 uninsured homes that suffered a minimum loss in market value of 40 percent.

Turner said that he and his staff saw four homes on Warwick Road in St. Clair Township that might have sustained 40 percent losses in value and none in Fairfield. They will visit Collinsville and New Miami today.

Turner estimates that about 300 homes sustained major flood damage.

It sure seemed like a disaster to many of the Butler County families who fled their homes over the weekend, some leaving by boats navigated by volunteer rescuers.

In St. Clair Township, the floodwaters from Four Mile Creek rose 10 feet, just below the front windows of Harold and Cindy Holloway's home on Warwick Road. Their home is built on 8-foot-tall stilts.

The area floods twice a year, but the Holloways said this is the worst one they've seen in 15 years. In the weekend flood, the family lost a shed and its contents, several trees, a swing set, a BMW that Harold was going to restore, lawn mowers and tools.

Harold Holloway said it will take a month to clean up the mess.

"You see it, you cry awhile, you cuss a while and then you put your shoes on and go to it," he said. "Then you go and try to help your neighbor out.''

Although the family has both flood insurance - the house sits in a 100-year floodplain - and homeowners insurance, they don't expect any reimbursement.

"It only covers the house and what's inside," Cindy Holloway said.

By 7:30 p.m. Sunday, homes along Four Mile Creek in St. Clair Township were surrounded by floodwater.

Crews from the Hamilton and Butler County sheriff's departments had to come in by boat to evacuate about 25 people, St. Clair Township Fire Chief Jerry White said.

Brian Preston and his wife were among those taken out by boat.

"It came up so fast there was no time to move anything out of the way," said Preston, who has lived along the creek for 23 years. "It came in as fast as it ever has."

The flood, which had created a moat around Preston's 3-year-old house on Warwick Road, had receded by Monday, leaving mud and puddles in its wake. The water also had stranded a fawn sheriff's deputies had found and Preston was caring for on his front porch.

"There was no getting out of it," said Preston, who was covered in mud from hours of clean-up work. "It was something else."

The flood also hurt St. Clair Township farmer Ray Martin, who bought his farm on Eaton and Warwick roads in 1961.

He said the floodwaters flattened 10 acres of wheat on Warwick. All the rain has kept him from planting more than 50 acres of soybeans.

"This is the worst flood here I've ever seen," Martin said. "The whole area is under. I wish it would just quit raining so we could farm.''

The Butler County chapter of the American Red Cross had to switch shelter sites for flood victims twice. On Sunday, the Red Cross closed its shelter at the Marie Schmidt School in Collinsville because of flooding and then closed its shelter at New Miami High School because of a water main break. The final shelter site was Overpeck Community Center in St. Clair Township.

A water-boil advisory is in effect for St. Clair Township and New Miami. People in those areas need to boil any drinking or bathing water.

Most of the Butler County roads that were closed because of the flooding have been reopened.

But Bauer and Harris roads in Milford Township will remain closed indefinitely because of culvert washouts while the county engineer's office assesses the damage and decides what repairs need to be made.

A culvert washout caused the closing of Nichols Road in Hanover Township one mile east of U.S. 27 and less than a half-mile west of Lanes Mill Road. It is expected to reopen July 7.


Jeremy W. Steele contributed to this report. E-mail skemme@enquirer.com and suek@infionline.net.

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